Why Bother Validating the Non conventional?


Why Bother Validating the Non conventional?

Suicide is not a “conventional” way for to die. Therefore, the grief that follows in the wake of someone’s death by suicide will not be conventional. Instead, it contains all the emotions of anyone who mourns the death of a loved one in addition to a few more added layers. 

The Uncommon

Shock, denial, guilt, sadness, anger and acceptance are some of the more common emotions we experience when someone we love dies. But, when there is a death by suicide, exclusion and confusion get added to all those other hard to bear feelings. 

Sudden death by accident or even an expected death after a long illness can be explained. Suicide cannot. To mention that someone took their own life does not get the same response as if we said they had died after a long battle with cancer. Conventional death is not easy to talk about, but suicide can leave everyone speechless. 

The news of suicide is rarely written as the cause of death in an obituary, mentioned during the funeral, or penned by writers of sympathy cards. There is no “soft” language for the harshness of, “He hung himself.” 

Consequently the words that explain the cause of death by suicide do not always produce empathy from our listener. Instead we may feel blame and judgment from some. Why people believe the bereaved are somehow responsible for a death by suicide is a mystery. But it does occur. Suicide survivors already erroneously believe they are an accomplice to the death. The unspoken or spoken judgments from others makes the guilt all that much heavier.  

How do we breech that wide and discomforting gap that lies between us and the one who is left standing alone after a suicide? 

We don’t have to know all the details or understand the circumstances to extend empathy toward someone. Death is sorrowful, no matter how a person’s life ends. 

 Standing beside someone with open ears, open arms and a soft heart is a way to begin validating their sorrow. Words may or may not mean something, but our willingness to be present speaks volumes. 

Why bother validating the unconventional? Suicide is on the rise and so are the numbers of those who are left behind. Standing beside a suicide survivor gives them a little hope to lean on. 

Why Bother to Consider One’s Good Qualities?

Recently an acquaintance called to tell me some sad news. Her father recently committed suicide. Through her choking sobs she told me that the family was too torn apart by his suicide to even plan a memorial service. My heart hurt for her as I remembered how raw my emotions were when my father committed suicide. 

                  Funerals and Obituaries

I vividly recall reading my dad’s obituary in the newspaper as well as the words that were spoken at his funeral. At the time, the words written and spoken about my father seemed to be too glossy, untrue and unreal. He’d been referred to as a kind and considerate man who loved his family. As a teenager, whose father purposely had left her, the words sounded hypocritical. How could an honorable and up right man do such a thing as to take his own life. 

For many years, it was a quandary for me to see my father as the man he was in spite of what he did. But somewhere, long after those teen years of mine were behind me, I finally came to grips with my fathers’ life and the way he took his life away. 

My dad’s life had a beginning and middle, not just a sad ending. He’d been a young man, growing up in a small town. He played football and was active in other school extra-curricular activities. When he graduated, he worked for a banker and a lawyer before volunteering for military service. 

In a reference letter from one of those upstanding citizens he was said to be, “honorable and upright” in all his dealings. In another letter his character and morals were referred to as, “the very best.” 

He went on to serve in the Army as a cryptographic technician and earned a few medals. There was the Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, and The Victory Medal. He also had an honorable discharge. 

After he died, there were many cards and letters from the families of those whom my dad knew from his position as a nursing home administrator. They spoke of his kindness and consideration for their father or mother while under his care in the nursing home. 

He really was a good man, even if his story had a bad ending. But his final act does not discredit the proceeding years of his life. I hope my acquaintance and her family will come to terms with their father’s final act and at the same time, remember him as a good man. 

Why bother to consider one’s good qualities?  Everyone has some good qualities about their lives. Remembering them is up to us. 

Why Bother With Grief?


Why Bother With Grief?

June 27th will mark the 32nd anniversary of Elliott Emery Luikens’ death. He was our third born son, a stillbirth. He was full-term, nine pounds, twenty-two inches long and perfect. The only thing he lacked was the breath of life. A knot formed in his umbilical cord and tightened, cutting off his source of oxygen the day before I went into labor. Sadness surrounded his delivery and engulfed me for days and months afterward. 


At first, I only wanted grief to go away. I avoided paying any attention to it and pretended it wasn’t there. That did not work. I guess grief is used to being ignored and it did not take my rejection personally. Instead, it continued to hang out with me, always nearby and within reach. I didn’t want to touch it. It took up so much space and it scared me. Occasionally, when I did acknowledge its presence, it felt weighty, heavy and constricting. I didn’t want to claim it as mine. I was afraid its heaviness would make me sink and I’d suffocate underneath the length and breadth of it. I was convinced it was a powerful force, something that I had to resist and fight against. Like a bad habit, it had to be conquered or tamed. It might consume me otherwise. Because of its persistent company though, I became intimately acquainted with it. Then I realized how wrong I’d been about grief.  

It is better to pay attention to grief. Ignoring it does not make it go away. It is a natural companion that comes along with loss. Yes, heartache is weighty. The weightiness, though, has its purpose. It slows us down, and forces us to rest more. Loss requires release. Obligations and feats we normally shoulder have to be set down, and laid aside. We cannot function “normally” when we cross paths with something out of the ordinary, such as the death of a child or anybody’s death for that matter.  Anguish is lighter when carried by itself. Unaccompanied by other worries, it is not quite so heavy. 

Heartbreak is raw, and natural. It is not something that you can restrict or domesticate. At times, though, anger tried demanding my sadness to cease. Though anger tried to force a deadline with grief, I discovered that grief is not threatened by anger. Heartbreak is not one to ever kowtow to any such thing as wrath. Nothing can command sorrow to stop, not even our own indignation against it. 

Grief does not require us to isolate ourselves and be alone with it. I knew I was not the first mother in history to bury a child, but it was my first time to bury one of my children. I sought out other mothers who, like me, lived even though their child didn’t. Grief is very personal and everyone’s path through the terrain is different. There are some similar landmarks that everyone sees along this journey though. Other women validated my guilt and confusion. They understood my incomplete sentences formulated from jumbled thoughts. They understood my sobs to be the language of utter agony. Their hugs were the handholds that kept me going as I navigated my way through the uncharted territory of my grief. 

Grief and I became close. At one point, I almost apologized to it. I’d been harsh when it first showed up in my life. I’d tried to ignore it, hoping it would just go away. I was sorry I’d been like that. Just before it left me, it pointed to something it left behind, a little reminder of our time spent together, something to remind me of our relationship. It left me with some empathy. 

Why bother with grief? It is worth spending time with grief because it leaves us with a bit of empathy.