10 things NOT to tell someone who is suicidal (and what you can say instead)

There is nothing as dreadful, as scary, as heart-wrenching as hearing someone say the words,

“I want to kill myself”

These are words you do not want to hear, at all. What do you do from that point? How do you help? What do you say, and more importantly, what shouldn’t you say? As scary as this scenario is, hearing this words is a subtle gift that a friend who is struggling gives. It is their way of crying for help, it is their way of giving you an opportunity to help in their journey, as hard as it is. Your response is critical as it could either be an doorway to healing, or it could be the end as they know it. Granted, it is an emotional moment and you may not be sure how to respond. Below are 10 common (cliché, need I add?) responses that only make it harder for suicidal people to speak up and ask for help.

NOTE: While these responses/questions are generally deemed to cast judgement on the affected, a number of people may respond in the positive. Secondly, in as much as you can help by been present, it is important to get medical attention immediately. Do not hesitate to do so. Check out this page that has suicide crisis helplines in Kenya.

 

  1. “Suicide is for weaklings”

The truth of the matter is, by the time someone is getting to the point of struggling with suicidal thoughts, they have already gone through so much. By the time one is searching on how to die by suicide, all rationality is gone and that statement is a cry for help. Saying suicide is for weaklings invalidates their feelings and only causes one who is struggling to keep to themselves – with dire consequences.

Instead: You can let them know you care instead. Assure them of your love and compassion. Be present. Stay with them. Offer a hug – it creates a safe space for someone who is suicidal

 

  1. “It is all in your head – snap out of it”

This is another common response given from an ignorant point of view. Depression and suicide are conditions that affect the mind. The mind does get sick, just as the physical body does. Do we tell people suffering from diabetes to snap out of it? There you have it. Additionally, people who are not aware of mental health illnesses have the warped view that suicidal people are doing it for ‘attention’ – which is absolutely wrong.

Instead: It is better to admit that you may not understand what they are going through, but that you will offer to be present and seek help for them.

Read More: The hardest post I ever had to write

 

  1. “You should be grateful. There are people who have it worse”

I hate to burst the bubble, but someone who is suicidal has likely thought about that already – and it feels like they can never measure up. This only adds to their brokenness because, while they are well aware they ought to be grateful, their mind just cant reconcile that with the utter hopelessness and emptiness that they feel.

Instead: Show empathy. You may not understand, but that doesn’t give you permission to be insensitive.

 

  1. “Suicide is selfish. Think about your family/kids/loved ones”

Suicide is NOT selfish.

Suicide is NOT selfish.

And there’s a reason why. Suicidal people genuinely feel worthless and absolutely hopeless. They feel like there’s nothing to leave for, and worst of all, feel like a burden to the very people you are asking them to think about. The mind convinces them the world would be a better place without them. Telling them suicide is selfish not only invalidates their struggle, it also makes it less likely to ask for help again.

Instead: Ask how to help, find out what they need and check up on them constantly.

 

  1. “But your life is not that bad, how can you think of suicide?”

Truth is that there are invisible scars that suicidal people carry which you may never ever get to see. The pain is underneath – whether it is getting molested by an uncle, getting raped by a work colleague, losing one’s family or even a still birth. On the outside, it may seem all okay, but the pains and ache remain etched in their minds forever. Asking how someone can think of suicide speaks of disbelief and judgement, not empathy.

Instead: sometimes, all you can do is listen and be present.

Read More: Broken

  1. “You are not praying enough”

I can’t stop saying it, but, this is simply belittling someone’s struggles. It is likely that the depression/ mental health condition that has gotten them to the point of been suicidal has not allowed them to be able to pray in the first place. Telling someone they have not prayed enough/ do not have faith is just judgemental.

Instead: Consider affirming your love and support to someone struggling with suicidal thoughts. Taking a minute can save a life.

 

  1. “You will go to hell”

Regardless of one’s religion, telling someone they will go to hell when they are suicidal only enhances the feeling of isolation and loneliness (which in many cases, only pushes them over the edge). In any case, the judgemental attitude does not show any compassion or empathy.

Instead: It helps to assure a suicidal person that their thoughts are not permanent (even if the person believes that they are), and then to offer a listening ear without any judgement. This offers hope and communicates empathy.

 

  1. “ Don’t do anything stupid”

This is a very dismissive response for the simple reason that it takes away from the importance and the urgency of someone’s struggles. Often, such a statement only alienates a person even more. You may be worried/ concerned – rightly so, but whatever you do, don’t dismiss it as simply stupidity.

Instead: You may ask, “I have heard you mention suicide, and I am concerned about you. Are you safe? I want to reach out to you, know I am here for you”

 

  1. “How’d you want to hurt me like that?”

First, this is not about you. Secondly, it is likely that someone who is suicidal knows that their absence is going to hurt you and their loved ones. It already makes them feel terrible. Getting them on a guilt trip is counterproductive, and often exacerbates the alienation.

Instead:  You could say, I am sorry that you are struggling and hurting. But I will be here for you. You matter. You mean a lot (to me)

 

  1. Aaaand finally, one of the most cliché statements: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

At face value, this statement ‘sounds’ right, but a closer look reveals it is a fallacy, a popular one at that. First, the statement seems to suggest that suicide is a ‘solution’, and also belittles one’s problem as merely temporary. What of chronic mental health disorders, lifetime diseases and emotional scars?

The bottomline: When someone opens up to you about suicide ideation, it means that they have found a safe space in you. Responding harshly not only makes it harder to speak up, it also alienates them further. Granted, you may feel disappointed, hurt, embarrassed, even betrayed – but how you respond can make a big difference.

PS: This article was inspired by my last post which you can read here. I am, by no means, a health expert, but I struggled with suicide ideation and thoughts of harming my baby when I had Postpartum Depression. Some of the above statements are things I was told when I shared about my thoughts – and I switched off. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel alienated in their struggle with depression, so I put up this list with insight from the following websites:

Speaking of suicide

Purple Persuasions

The Mighty Site

 

PS: Do not struggle alone, reach out for help. Use the contact page or get in touch through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conversations on #suicide

I really do need to get into the habit of writing down blog ideas on the go. This post was inspired by something that happened whilst my son and I were in hospital last week. He had just got his medication administered when I had some commotion downstairs. For a moment, I let it pass because I thought, the last thing I need is to have my peace disturbed  – and so I tucked Jay in for him to continue napping and get some much-needed rest. But the noise persisted, and it piqued my interest because, what could the people/ patients be talking about so loudly? I hurried to the balcony just in time to see the small crowd that had milled around disperse. Curiously, I asked the nurse what had happened. What she said left me feeling angry, hopeless, defeated, charged and riled up – all in one.

So, the crowd that had gathered had come to pick a patient who had been referred to the national hospital. Naturally, I enquired what had led to that, and she admitted to the patient having overdosed (in a suicide attempt) and requiring specialized attention. So what was the noise all about, I asked. Apparently, a group of his ‘friends’ had come to pick him up and take him home. I say ‘friends’ because of the comments that followed. The nurse went on to share some of the crude and disheartening things they said, things like:

“Tell the medics they should have administered a stronger dose…’ (ostensibly to kill him)

“Be man enough…  relationship woes do not suffice to make a suicide attempt… some of us wish we had those very girls (those girls tormenting your life)…”

“suicide is selfish… you just don’t care about others”

“Suicide is for weaklings!”

I asked her what the administration did about the fiasco and she admitted to having had an intervention before the crowd chose to disperse. I was heartbroken. I didn’t want to imagine what the man must have felt hearing such words from his ‘friends’, the people who had supposedly come to help him on his way to get specialized care.

Read More: Masked

Here’s the thing about depression and suicide. Depression is not just something you can ‘snap out of’! If it were, then so many people would get better at the snap of a finger without going through the motions of hopelessness, rage, disillusionment, intrusive thoughts and self-harm. If it were so easy, we would not have so many people struggling.

Many people think and say out loud that suicide is selfish, that it is for weaklings – but I am of a totally different view. It hasn’t always been like this. I too thought, suicide was selfish – until I suffered Postpartum Depression and experienced suicidal thoughts. Then I realized, people who struggle with suicidal thoughts feel absolutely worthless, hopeless and good for nothing. It is not just an ‘I woke up with a bad hair day and I kinda feeling under the weather’. It is believing that one is actually not worth anything.

It is feeling utterly overwhelmed and trapped with no way out. It is hazy and suffocating  – I often liken it to opening your eyes in over-chlorinated water. Worst of all, when one is suicidal, they feel like a burden to everyone around them – their family, friends and even their children. They genuinely believe that the world would be a better place without them. It is this struggle that sometimes pushes people to their limits and they go right over the cliff. In a moment, powerful negative emotions surge, and when the mind is sick, it is often impossible to stop these thoughts.

It is time we had conversations around suicide and suicide prevention. Look out for the signs of someone struggling with suicidal thoughts. Be aware of what the symptoms are. Be present enough to know when someone’s putting up a strong face yet crying for help. Go beyond ‘ hi’ and ‘I am fine’. Taking a minute to do this genuinely can save a life.

Read More: Taking a minute can change a life

 

NOTE: 10 things NOT to tell someone who is struggling with suicidal thoughts in the next post.

 

Milestones

The few weeks leading up to the fourth week of October 2017 have been a flurry of emotions. I have been excited and overwhelmed in equal measure, all the while filled with immense gratitude. It was a week I never thought would come to pass back in 2011 when I found out I was pregnant. I recall with clarity the sheer trepidation I felt – the fear, the anxiety, the doubt and the shame, all rolled in one. Here I was, just a few years after campus, and fresh into a new job with a child on the way.

To say I was scared would be an understatement. I felt unprepared for motherhood. What kind of mother would I make? How would I take care of this child alone? Would I be able to raise him? What would he eat? Where would he go to school? How would I meet his needs? I was afraid of what the future held. I started drifting into antenatal depression. My mind often spun wondering how we’d pull through. Losing my job in my third trimester just added to the financial strain and spun me further into mental anguish. Looking back, this was one of the key contributing factors of my postpartum depression (PPD).

Fast forward to January when he was born – he was a healthy bouncing baby boy. What was meant to be the happiest time of my life turned out to be the most heart-wrenching period. I struggled a lot in the first few months of his life. The sleepless nights took a huge toll on me, and for the most part, I was not able to bond with my son. Then that resulted in guilt, regret and shame, topped up with hopelessness.

Would we make it to 5 years – scratch that, let’s talk about one year first. We got to one year, then two, then three… and now we are almost six. It may not seem like much, but having struggled with PPD, this is huuge. And that is why, when J graduated from kindergarten this past week, my heart was filled with immense gratitude. The appreciation of just how far we have come, that we got to 5 and beyond. I don’t think words can capture what it feels like, or even attempt to explain it. This milestone is an amazing step for my son and I. We made it J!

This post is dedicated to my supportive family who have been there through it all and the superb friends the journey has afforded me. It is also for all the mothers struggling with PPD to know that they too can make a full recovery. There’s hope. Here’s to more milestones in the future.

 

PS: This post is a couple of days late because, while I had written it earlier, my son’s hospital admission could not wait. and so, it sat in the drafts folder. After his week-long stay, glad to say he has made a full recovery and we are back at it – by it I mean bouncing off walls with karate-like moves. I am not complaining.

PPS: Blurry images but I am at that point in my life where my memory is still sharp 😀 😀 😀

THE EDINBURGH POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION SCALE (EPDS)

Postpartum Depression (PPD), same as Postnatal Depression (PND – which by the way, I have found is used a lot in the UK) is one of the most common mental health disorders in women. Statistics show that between 11 and 20% of women who deliver every year will experience symptoms of PPD. That’s about 2 in every 10 women are going to get PPD. One of the tools that has been developed to identify women who are at risk of perinatal (that is both antenatal and postpartum) depression is the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS). EPDS is an efficient screening tool that consists of 10 questions listed alongside a set of values. Below are the guidelines for using the EPDS.

  1. The mom-to-be/ mom is asked to tick the answer that describes closely how she has been feeling in the previous 7 days.
  2. All questions must be answered.
  3. Caution should be exercised to ensure that answers are not discussed as this could skew the results. That is, answers should only come from the expectant woman or mother herself.

NOTE: The EPDS is not a diagnostic tool and must be used alongside clinical assessment. For this reason, it should not be used for self-diagnosis. If you go through this set of questions and suspect that you may be suffering, consult a doctor to ensure you get professional help. Secondly, one of the questions (#10) is on suicidal thoughts and must be answered before the report is submitted. If the item is checked, a follow up should be made so as to ascertain the level of risk and make the necessary arrangements for mother and child.

Read More: Depression during pregnancy

As you are pregnant or have recently had a baby, we would like to know how you are feeling. Please check the answer that comes closest to how you have felt IN THE PAST 7 DAYS, not just how you feel today. 

Here is an example, already completed. 

I have felt happy:

 [ ] Yes, all the time 

 [X ] Yes, most of the time 

[ ] No, not very often

[ ] No, not at all

This would mean: “I have felt happy most of the time” during the past week. 

Please complete the other questions in the same way.

 

In the past 7 days:

  1. I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things

[ ] As much as I always could

[ ] Not quite so much now

[ ] Definitely not so much now

[ ] Not at all

 

  1. I have looked forward with enjoyment to things

[ ] As much as I ever did

[ ] Rather less than I used to

[ ] Definitely less than I used to

[ ] Hardly at all

 

*3   .I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong

[ ] Yes, most of the time

[ ] Yes, some of the time

[ ] Not very often

[ ] No, never

 

  1. I have been anxious or worried for no good reason

[ ] No, not at all

[ ] Hardly ever Yes

[ ] sometimes Yes

[ ] very often

 

*5.  I have felt scared or panicky for no very good reason

[ ] Yes, quite a lot

[ ] Yes, sometimes

[ ] No, not much

[ ] No, not at all

 

*6.  Things have been getting on top of me

[ ] Yes, most of the time I haven’t been able to cope at all

[ ] Yes, sometimes I haven’t been coping as well as usual

[ ] No, most of the time I have coped quite well

[ ] No, have been coping as well as ever

 

*7.  I have been so unhappy that I have had difficulty sleeping

[ ] Yes, most of the time

[ ] Yes, sometimes

[ ] Not very often

[ ] No, not at all

 

 

*8.  I have felt sad or miserable

[ ] Yes, most of the time

[ ] Yes, quite often

[ ] Not very often

[ ] No, not at all

 

*9   I have been so unhappy that I have been crying

[ ] Yes, most of the time

[ ] Yes, quite often

[ ] Only occasionally

[ ] No, never

 

 

*10.The thought of harming myself has occurred to me

[ ] Yes, quite often

[ ] Sometimes

[ ] Hardly ever

[ ] Never

 

SCORING

QUESTIONS 1, 2, & 4 (without an *)

Are scored 0, 1, 2 or 3 with top box scored as 0 and the bottom box scored as 3

QUESTIONS 3, 5¬10 (marked with an *)

Are reverse scored, with the top box scored as a 3 and the bottom box scored as 0

Scores

0-9: Scores in this range may indicate the presence of some symptoms of distress that may be short-lived and are less likely to interfere with day to day ability to function at home or at work. However if these symptoms have persisted more than a week or two further enquiry is warranted.

10-12 : Scores within this range indicate presence of symptoms of distress that may be discomforting. Repeat the EPDS in 2 weeks time and continue monitoring progress regularly

. If the scores increase to above 12 assess further and consider referral as needed.

13 +: Scores above 12 require further assessment and appropriate management as the likelihood of depression is high. Referral to a psychiatrist/psychologist may be necessary.

Item 10: Any woman who scores 1, 2 or 3 on item 10 requires further evaluation before leaving the office to ensure her own safety and that of her baby.

 

Resource Material

Source: Cox, J.L., Holden, J.M., and Sagovsky, R. 1987. Detection of postnatal depression: Development of the 10-item Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. British Journal of Psychiatry 150:782-786.

Screening for antenatal depression with the Edinburgh Depression Scale

 

 

 

5 Celebrities who have opened up about their struggles with Postpartum Depression

Maternal mental health is an important part of public health, and a major challenge across the world. According to WHO, 13% of women who have just delivered will suffer some form of mental disorder. This figure is known to be higher in developing countries where the statistics paint a grim picture of 19.8% of women affected after child birth. In extremely severe cases, many moms die by suicide following unaddressed mental health challenges.

It is important to mention that postpartum depression (PPD), one of the most common perinatal mood disorders, can affect anyone including celebrities. Contrary to popular belief, the risk factors associated with PPD do not exempt the rich and famous. A number of celebrity moms have gone public with their PPD stories. I am an advocate for celebrity moms creating a shift with this because it is a loud message to the ‘ordinary’ mom that motherhood may not always be a glowing bubble.

Read More: My Postpartum Depression Story

Adele

Adele opened up about her struggles with Postpartum Depression in an interview with Vanity Fair. She admits to having bad PPD and been so scared. She made a point to add that it helps one become a better mom to cut themselves some slack and take some time off. In her words,

“My knowledge of postpartum—or post-natal, as we call it in England—is that you don’t want to be with your child; you’re worried you might hurt your child; you’re worried you weren’t doing a good job. But I was obsessed with my child. I felt very inadequate; I felt like I’d made the worst decision of my life . . . . It can come in many different forms.”

 

Gwyneth Paltrow

American actress and singer,Paltrow has admitted to struggling with PPD following her son’s birth in 2006. In an interview with People, the mom of two confessed to feeling nothing, and having no maternal instincts for her son. She added that, while she harbored no thoughts of harm, she did not experience the blissful doting emotions either.

“I couldn’t connect, and still, when I look at pictures of him at three months old, I don’t remember that time.”

Fortunately for Paltrow, support from her husband helped her on the journey to recovery.

Read More: #postpartumdepression: The conversation on Victoria’s Lounge (NTV)

Kendra Wilkinson

In an interview with OK!, Kendra, a reality TV star and mother of two spoke in detail about experiencing PPD after her son’s birth. Her account shows that PPD does manifest in different forms, and can be a very subtle thing. For many affected moms, there is little energy to do the most basic of daily tasks, and this includes showering and combing hair.

“After giving birth, I never brushed my hair, my teeth, or took a shower. I looked in the mirror one day and was really depressed.”

Chrissy Teigen

Chrissy Teigen wears many feathers on her hat: model, TV host, best -selling cookbook author and mother. It is the latter that has, in 2017, endeared her to many moms following her admission that she struggled with PPD after giving birth to her daughter Luna. In her candid interview with Glamour, Chrissy wrote,

“I had everything I needed to be happy. And yet, for much of the last year, I felt unhappy. What basically everyone around me—but me—knew up until December was this: I have postpartum depression. How can I feel this way when everything is so great?”

She goes on to add some of the symptoms she had:

“Getting out of bed to get to set on time was painful. My lower back throbbed; my ­shoulders—even my wrists—hurt. I didn’t have an appetite. I would go two days without a bite of food, and you know how big of a deal food is for me… I also just didn’t think it could happen to me.”

She admits to never leaving the house and spending days on end on the couch, with endless bouts of spontaneous tears before she was finally diagnosed with PPD and postpartum anxiety. Chrissy got professional help, medication and had a support system especially from her man, John Legend.

Chemutai Sage

Locally, Chemutai Sage, a singer, songwriter and instrumentalist went public about her struggles with PPD. In an interview with MumsVillage, the singer mentioned realizing something was amiss when her daughter was about 5 months. During this period, she would experience crazy emotions which she often associated with her child. She kept thinking to herself,

“If I didn’t have the baby…”

In the MumsVillage show, Sage shared that she did realize these were not commonplace emotions, something which got more pronounced with her inability to leave her room for days – there was simply no joy in doing so. Sage did get help, and had a strong support system that helped her in her recovery journey.

Read More: #postpartumdepression: The conversation on MumsVillage

This post is a reminder that, if you are struggling with PPD, you are not alone. By speaking openly about this form of maternal disorder, celebrities amplify the voices of many moms who may be going through the motions in silence. Remember too, that you can get in touch (via the contact page) if you are wondering where to get help or need someone to talk to.

Featured Image

 

 

 

 

 

Today – Taking a minute can change a life

Today, my heart is heavy. Today my heart goes out to everyone struggling with a mental health condition and suicide (thoughts/ ideation/attempts).

Today my heart aches because a number of my friends are struggling now, struggling with their minds telling them they are not worth anything. Struggling to understand why life throws such curve balls, struggling with anxiety.

Today, I feel the pain and the struggles, because I have been there. I know what it is like to feel hopeless and worthless, to be in a dark foggy phase that never seems to lift, and to flirt with the idea of ending it all.

Today, I am reminded I could have been just another statistic in the number of people who die by suicide, but I am here because someone cared to listen, someone cared enough to make a call and to make daily follow-up.

Today I am reminded of how much power there is in a listening ear, how much power there is in just being present (even with no idea how to do it). Today I am reminded that we need to go beyond ‘I am fine’ and really find out how the people in our circles are doing – particularly those who have had a history of mental illnesses.

***

September is World Suicide Prevention Month. September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day, and this month’s theme iss ‘Taking a minute can change a life’. This post comes a tad bit late, but I thought to put it up even as September comes to an end. We may not realize it, but behind the emojis and memes online, many people are struggling with depression and a host of other mental health conditions. In many cases, these conditions if unaddressed, lead to suicide. And that is why it is important that we talk about suicide.

I have had personal struggles with suicide ideation when I suffered postpartum depression, and on several days, I wanted out, I wanted to do away with the pain of not loving my child and hating myself for it. In the midst of all these chaos, my friend, the dreadloc’d one in this post, constantly checked in to find out how I was holding up. It was a mix of chats, texts, and calls, sometimes late into the night when I found solace on a wet pillow with a nursing child on a tired boob. This year’s theme on ‘Taking a minute can change a life’ plays out in my life. All I needed to know at the time was, it mattered that despite what I felt, someone cared to listen, cared to talk to me and cared to check on me.

Statistics show that more than 2 million Kenyans are depressed [Link], that’s 2,000,000. Approximately 5% of the country’s population is struggling with depression. 7000 Kenyans will die by suicide each year [Link]. Isn’t it time we talked about mental health and suicide? Time we let others know there is no shame in struggling? Please reach out (on any of the social media platforms, or use the contact page to get in touch), do not suffer in silence. It is not weakness to ask for help, it is immense strength to realize that one cannot make it alone.

 

NOTE: I posted my struggle with suicide ideation in this post.

Secondly, inspired by Sitawa’s post and with her permission, I reposted ‘Crisis helplines in Kenya and Africa if you are feeling suicidal

 

 

 

 

 

 

#postpartumdepression: The conversation on MumsVillage

Hi everyone,

Today’s post is going to be pretty short; the conversation on #postpartumdepression over at MumsVillage.

Postpartum depression is a condition that affects 1 in 7 mothers, and there is every reason why we should talk about.

The facts haven’t changed; if anything, moms are at risk now more than ever, partly because of the dynamics of the world we live in. This is why, any chance to talk about postpartum depression is welcome. Last month I had the opportunity of filming with MumsVillage on one of their episodes which went Live yesterday on the MumsVillage Facebook page. The show was hosted by the lovely Janet Mbuguah and Isis Nyong’o. Alongside Sage, musician and songwriter, we spoke about the challenges of parenting with PPD, ways to take care of yourself and of course that help is available. (Side Note: It really is amazing when a public figure/ celebrity opens up about their struggles with mental health. It gives other moms a powerful voice to know they can be heard and acknowledged. Thank you Sage. Janet Mbuguah is also doing a great job by talking about the less glamorous side of motherhood. Do check out her social media platforms for this.).

Watch that episode by clicking on this link.

Image credits

 

 

Lifting the lid on postpartum depression

It is always an honor to be featured on someone else’s blog because it means one thing: more people are reading (and learning, hopefully) about Postpartum depression (PPD). I will never tire of talking about this form of depression, in part because i know how much mental health sucks. I am grateful for the different platforms I have been featured on (see this page). Today’s post was one featured by Kalekye Kasina, an award-winning journalist with a passion for health matters, which is how I got to share my story with her.

I met Kalekye at a volunteer meet-up organized by Carol Ng’anga, founder of the HELD organization  – an organization that offers help for those affected by cancer as well as creates awareness on the same. I am always amazed at the resilience and sheer determination to forge forward by Carol and her team. So, anyway, the volunteer meet-up yielded friendships, and this post is one of the fruits of the same. Thank you Kalekye for highlighting postpartum depression and the reason moms need to get help.

Read the featured post by clicking on this link.

Happy reading! And remember, you are not alone in this. Do get in touch using the contact page if you need any clarifications or would like to speak to a professional.

Image credits

How to help someone dealing with grief

There is no manual for handling grief and loss, and there are no step-by-step procedures to cope with the same. On the flip side, dealing with grief is a lot like grappling in the dark. You will stumble and fall on many days. And just when you feel like you are coming through the dense fog into a lighter mist, the reality of loss hits hard. Over the past few days following the burial of our dear guka, it has dawned on me just how much simple acts of kindness go a long way. The magnitude of this realization lies in sharp contrast with the hurt that accompanies an aching heart when those you think will show up do not do so. I kept thinking to myself, how would I have loved for someone to come through for me during this grieving period? Here, I share lessons I have learned grieving the death of our guka. Granted, this is not exhaustive. Feel free to add more insight in the comment box at the end of this post.

  1. Reach out to console the grieving person, be present

When you receive the news that someone you know has lost a loved one, reach out to console them. You can do this on call or text. In the days gone by, I have found myself unable to pick calls because I kept answering the same questions… so the mode of communication may vary depending on the relationship you have. A point of caution however – if you do call, steer clear of filler words. It helps to be precise. I remember how much I appreciated friends who called with “I am sorry for the loss of your guka. May he rest in peace.” And in case anyone is wondering, please avoid asking the grieving person, “what happened?” It is likely they have had to explain this over and over. If they are comfortable, they will let you know without you having to ask.

  1. Continue to check up on the person.

This could be a simple text such as “Thinking about you during this hard season”, or perhaps “sending you warm hugs” or even “You are in my thoughts and prayers”. I remember been smirk in the middle of the grief period and someone asked me to help them with some online work. While there is nothing wrong with asking for help, it came across as rather insensitive because they were aware of what had happened. Let me not talk about those who, right after a ‘May he RIP’ message, will forward those political memes – Plain crass insensitivity IMO.

  1. Visit if you can.

One of the most powerful gestures of kindness we as a family have experienced during this period is the visits by extended family and friends. Seemingly simple, but it spoke volumes – because it meant someone had taken time off their schedule to comfort and mourn with us. I remember how, on the burial date, one of my aunt’s friends found my son and I in a teary mess (this death affected my son as well, in part because he could not understand the concept of death. His questions included: If guka’s heart had stopped beating, why was he still in the ‘box’? Why did we put him in the ground? What will he do under the soil? And so on. Questions I intend to address in a different post, which reminds me, has anyone handled grief in kids? How’d it go? Please leave a comment below)

So, back to my aunt’s friend, she found us, tears streaming down our faces, swollen eyes and all. She sat next to us in contemplative silence, and said nothing. Instead, she gave a warm embrace, said a prayer and requested food be brought for us. She probably doesn’t recall that, but we appreciated that simple act. Just being present meant the world to a mourning mother, her child and her cousins.

In the same breath, please avoid cliché phrases such as, ‘He is in a better place’ (what do you mean a better place? At the time, the best place he could be would be in our lives, the people he loved). ‘ I understand’ (No honey, you do not). ‘Be strong’ (I am trying to be strong, I am fighting, but right now I am failing in spectacular fashion – and it is okay). ‘Do not cry’ (This was the worst in all honesty. ‘scuse me, but how exactly do you want me to express and process my grief? Some people do not cry, and that is okay. But crying is one of the ways I am dealing with this, please let me be). ‘God knows best’ (Yes, He does. It just doesn’t make sense to me now) ‘ He had ‘finished’ his work here on earth’ (please just hush it)

  1. Help out whenever you can.

After the death of a loved one, families are often thrown into disarray and routines are disrupted, as expected. That’s exactly where one could come in to help. There are meals to be prepared, food to be served, dishes to be cleaned, homework to be checked, kids to be taken care of among other things. It may not seem like much, but someone who is grieving may not have enough strength to pull through daily chores. You may make financial contributions too if you would like. Note, while you may have good intentions in letting a grieving person know they can call if they need anything, this is usually difficult. For someone who is dealing with grief, identifying a need, picking who may be the best fit for that need and finally calling them feels too taxing. It helps if you say, “I will be there at 1pm to help with preparations for lunch,” or “I offer to pick the kids from school at 4pm”.

  1. Visit even after the burial

Most people visit the grieving family prior to the burial, but I am slowly realizing the importance of doing so after the burial. We laid our guka to rest this past Wednesday, and will be traveling to visit our grandmother every so often. People go home after a funeral, but the grieving family returns home to the stark absence of a loved one.

Lastly, it helps to keep the grieving family in prayer. When everything is said and done, grief never quite stops. It is something you carry with you forever in different ways.

 

What I am learning about grief

We laid guka to rest on the 30th of August following an intense week – moments of great joy, and others of overwhelming sadness. A week that saw many people reach out, physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually. Our family is forever indebted to the amazing love we have received. The past few days or so have also been a learning lesson in grief and how to cope. Here’s what I am learning.

  1. Grief is not linear

I posted this on Instagram and as I pondered on this, I realized how often I overlooked this.

Grief is not a straight line, from point A to B. It is not something that you can deal with in a specified time period, or one to which you can attach a specific time frame. Some days you cope well, some days you are struggling to get through… Sometimes it feels like getting sucked up by rolling waves.

  1. Grief is personal

Coping with grief is a personal matter, that belongs to the griever. However you opt to cope is an individual choice. Over the years I have learnt my coping mechanisms, both good and bad, something which was highlighted during my sessions, and which I have blogged about here. Good coping mechanisms I am consistently reminding myself of include journaling, meditation, nature walks and adult coloring books.

In years gone by, I have realized the negative coping mechanism I have to unlearn is emotional eating and indulging in comfort food. In recent days,I have eaten more than my fair share of wheat and wheat products, which in all honesty I will deal with after this. Point is, however you’d love to deal with grief, do it your way. Be it painting. Coloring. Dancing. Watching ocean waves.

  1. Deal with your expectations

Grief will show you who your support system is, who is for you and who is present. I had to lower my expectations, because I am learning, quite a few of the people I thought would come through did not. And it is okay. Because the truth is I also have to deal with my expectations. I have to unlearn so much I thought I knew about grief – about how to process it, how to wade through it, how to relate to others.

 

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