National Crisis Intervention Training Institute, Inc.
Try this: Stand up. Bend over. Grab your boot or shoe tops. Now pick yourself up three feet off the floor, and carry yourself out of the room. What? Can't do it? Can't defy gravity?
Well, neither can a clinically depressed person whose problems outweigh them by a ton. Also, "forget about it" may foster more secrecy and shame, thus perpetuating an abusive or unbearably painful situation.
One of the most precious gifts we can give to a person in a crisis is "permission to feel." Don't rob the suffering person of that gift. Oh, and by the way: when things DON'T feel better or get better tomorrow, you'll have lost credibility with the suffering person in crisis.
Oh, great. Make their crisis seem trivial. It may not seem big to you, but one person's molehill is another person's mountain...especially when the other person is in a state of crisis.
NOTE: This is VERY DIFFERENT from asking, "Have you been thinking about suicide?" No one likes to feel stupid. This type of statement will make the suffering person feel hesitant to share their thoughts and feelings. To stunt their willingness to discuss their feelings and problems greatly magnifies the odds that they will choose suicide as THE solution to their problems.
Make sure you have your facts straight before saying something like this. Sometimes, we don't know what really goes on behind closed doors at home. And, besides, love is possibly not being expressed in a way that is meaningful or helpful to the person in crisis. And, "Don't say that!" isn't the best way to get a person to talk to you.
First of all, you're not. Secondly, you don't have all the facts. The person in crisis knows far more than you do about his or her situation.
To assume that a "Cry for help" is merely an attention-attracting tactic can be a deadly mistake. Suicidal people are often angry at themselves, and others. Depression itself, is often described as "anger turned inward."
You might as well just go and hang a "I'm a Dummy" sign around the person's neck, and get it over with. "Ought" needs to be thrown in the dumpster, along with "Should" and "Why." "Ought" and "Should" makes us feel stupid. "Why" often makes us feel both stupid, and accused.
I almost can't believe that some people actually say idiotic stuff like this to suicidal people...but they do. Their attempt at shock value is likely to turn into a "how to" lesson.
AND FINALLY, THE #1 Thing to NEVER SAY to say to a Suicidal Person:
If they are in misery, feel endlessly depressed, or are being chronically abused or exploited, you've just told them that they have a life sentence of pain to look forward to...with no relief in the foreseeable future . They are likely to want to parole themselves early, via suicide.
At the crucial juncture of your first notification it's not important that you know the gory details. What IS important that the Surviving Parent knows that you are focused on his or her needs...not "inquiring minds' need to know."
This is so wrong on so many levels. Catastrophic, sudden losses can be even more immediately impacting than chronic losses. Redirecting to someone else's tragedy can give the impression that you're minimizing the Surviving Parent's loss. You don't have all the information on how long, or how severely, the Victim suffered...or how long the Surviving Parent had been "waiting for the other shoe to drop" (in cases of suicide and accidental overdose, for example).
While not wanting to minimize any person's loss of a loved one: no two people suffer the same. Many dynamics of familial relationships (co-factors and co-morbidity factors) affect the type, magnitude, severity, and longevity of the grieving / mourning process.
Death of a child is something a Surviving Parent never "gets over." Sanctioning, estimating, and/or expecting time lines for recovery is inappropriate and unrealistic. Remember, some people remain "outside their grief" for years, prior to working through, or even beginning the grieving, mourning, and healing process.
Regardless of whether or not a Surviving Parent has other children, the death of their child creates an ever-empty, unfillable hold in their heart and their life. The Surviving Parent's responses to their child's death can also pathologically affect their own life, and their relationships with their surviving children. This often happens when "Complicated Grief" occurs.
While "guilt" is something we feel, and "blame" is something we do, these terms are often interchangeable in the minds and hearts of Surviving Parents. They must be addressed. Telling the Surviving Parent to NOT feel something they are feeling, or to encourage them to not take responsibility for something they feel guilty about, invalidates their feelings, impedes their self-perceived entitlement to their own feelings, and inhibits their healing.
Again, WRONG ON SO MANY LEVELS! This type of statement takes away their "right to feel" and to communicate their thoughts, feelings, fears, guilt, and remorse. They were NOT the "perfect parent," even though they may have been an excellent parent. They will naturally have regrets. It is natural to feel this way, not matter how good a parent they were. They will always be haunted by things that they could have or should have done before their child died. Within this emotional pit swims the emotional predators of "Should have," "Could have," "What if," and "If I'd only."
Over time, pain may diminish, or be deadened or dulled (by self medication), but that is not the same as wounds being totally healed. Emotional, psychological, and spiritual healing leaves scar tissue....just like physical healing often does. Tragic loss of this kind may be integrated into the Surviving Parent's life, but it is something that he/she will never "get over."
While on the surface, and in certain circumstances, this may seem to be the appropriate thing to say, it is terribly dangerous ground. While it may be true, and a source of comfort to Christian parents, this is a private train of thought and prayer that they must initiate, not you. Parents who immediately respond with a hopeful exclamation that their child was a Christian, might be concealing their own nagging doubts....especially in case of child suicide. This type of statement may foster increased fear and trepidation, which they may be afraid to admit to, and discuss.
And finally, the NUMBER ONE thing to NEVER say to a Surviving Parent:
This implies that God was either complicit in, the perpetrator of, of indifferent or powerless in the child's death, and its prevention. Due to "FREE WILL,' millions of things happen on this planet each and every day that are not God's Will (e.g. rape and murder of a child; a person going to hell)...and yet those things happen. Implying or asserting that everything that happens is God's Will can lead to, or magnify, the Surviving Parent's anger, alienation, and rejection toward and of God.
Surviving Parents, especially in the early days, weeks, and months of their despair, grieving, and mourning, need compassion, understanding, patience, and love......NOT a sermon or a barrage of Scripture. Remember an adage that lies within the Physician's Hypocratic Oath:
So, what SHOULD you say to a Surviving Parent?
"I can't even begin to imagine how horrible and devastating your child's death is to you. I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose my child. I feel so helpless, because I just can't come up with the right words to say. If I could, I would take on your pain, and heal your heart. All I can do is be here for you, to hold your hand, and to comfort you with my love for you. Please know how sorry I am for your horrible loss, and how much I love you."
This type of statement lets the Surviving Parent know that you
There are Ten Things to NOT be said
To Moms and Dads whose kids are dead;
Ten Things that make it hard to cope;
Ten Things that rip away all hope.
Ten Things that people often say,
To try to take the pain away.
Sincere, but harmful to the heart;
So please take note so you can start
To be a help to Dads and Moms
Who don’t know where Peace will come from;
Who’ve suffered the worst kind of pain:
A loss that leaves a horrid stain.
“We can’t know God’s All-perfect Will.”
Those painful words, they haunt me, still.
For not all things are willed by God.
To think so is so very odd.
When He bestowed “Free Will” on man,
It brought about His Perfect Plan.
But not all things are good and just:
Like greed, and hate, and damning lust.
But if man could not utter “No.”
His “Yes” would have no meaning, so
Because man chooses to rebel
Our sin can lead us straight to hell.
It’s not His Will that we should die,
Apart from Him; that is a lie.
Our loss is steeped in our foul sin.
That’s true in the world we live in.
“Was he a Christian?” Often asked
By many burdened with the task
Of counseling sad parents who
Do what all hopeful parents do.
They hope and pray if they don’t know.
Their fear and pain they oft don’t show.
For they may have some dreaded doubt
So better to leave this one out
Of your initial look into
What healing task that you may do.
To raise some doubt about the fate
Of children whose folks now must wait
Is ill advised, a risk at best.
‘Tis better to find out first, lest
Your well-intended questions lead
To deeper fear, and painful need.
“God gives, but then He takes away.”
Are words that lead to deep dismay.
Because it says to parents lost
That their child’s life might be the cost
Of their own sin, or that God calls
On us to rob when darkness falls.
Or that somehow the circumstance
Or person, or an act of chance
Was God’s design to take our joy;
To sweep away our girl or boy;
To leave us here with empty hearts.
To steal our peace, and tear apart
Our very lives. It’s just not true.
Because God does not try to do
That which destroys us, He’ll make whole
Our wounded heart, our shattered soul.
He did not take my son away.
And there’s no doubt that He will stay
Beside me. and due to His Grace
I’ll one day see my sweet boy’s face.
“Oh, No! Please tell me how he died.”
When I heard that, I sat and cried.
Because it seemed that he who asked
Was focused on the morbid task
Of finding out the lurid facts,
Not healing pain, or sharing acts
Of simple kindness, peace, and love,
Or bringing comfort from above.
So, friend, I beg you, please don’t ask.
Don’t burden parents with the task
Of giving details at a time
When loss is new, it is a crime.
They’ll give to you what is THEIR need
To share, so that they can be freed
From having to relive the day
That tragedy took joy away.
“You were the perfect Mom and Dad.”
These words can make a parent sad,
Because regret is always there;
A fear that somehow their best care
Was not enough to guard their child.
Regret is bred in guilt defiled.
No matter how a parent tries,
The doubt within them always lies.
It’s better to bring focus to
The richness that they always knew
Was there between them in the days
They had together; God will raise
Them to some comfort later on,
But never will the pain be gone.
They won’t get past it, but they can
Use it to be a better man
Or woman, and to use their pain
To help restore a peace again
To other parents who have lost
All hope due to a horrid cost.
“I’m sure you did all you could do.”
Again, these words just don’t ring true
To any parent who has gone
Through such a loss; It’s just plain wrong
To make assumptions when they might
Have made mistakes or had a fight
With their child just before their death.
Don’t say these words, they’ll rob the breath
Of any hope for peace and rest
In troubled souls, because the best
Is not enough to thwart the thief.
These words can oft prevent relief.
“At least you have another child.”
To say this stinks is just too mild.
Because each child’s a unique gift,
A parent’s love can never shift
Away from one child to the next;
To say these words may truly wreck
The chance for you to help their soul.
Their loss has left a gaping hole.
“I know just how you feel right now.”
When I heard this I "had a cow."
No other loss is like this one.
To lose a daughter or a son
Is not intended, and obscene.
I know these words aren’t meant as mean,
If you’ve not suffered this great loss,
Then you don’t know just how it costs
A grieving parent all their hope;
They’ve lost all tools they need to cope.
They’ve lost all hope, and peace and joy.
It died right with their girl or boy.
“In time you’ll overcome this pain.”
Believe me, this most horrid stain
Will always be there, and will lie
Inside their heart until they die.
Death of a child will always hurt.
So please think first before you blurt
Out promises which can't be kept.
No child-based mem'ries may be swept
Away into forgotten rooms,
So don’t be one who then assumes
That time can heal and cast afar
A parent’s pain who has those scars.
“At least he’s in a better place.”
No matter, this is out of place,
While this might be their true belief,
These words don’t always bring relief.
For we can’t know if they’re without
That nagging voice; that haunting doubt.
And also, while it may be true,
Their time with their sweet child is through.
And, sometimes this straddles the fence
Of facts which aren’t in evidence.
Because the parent may feel dread
Now that their child is truly dead.
So now you know what NOT to say
When death takes parents’ hope away.
It’s not enough to teach you how
To NOT respond, so listen now.
Here’s what to say to those you love
When you are sent by God above
To offer comfort and to care,
When they are trapped in deep despair.
What I can say as one who knows
The most horrendous of life’s woes
Is that the sadness never ends.
But these kind words from closest friends
Have helped to ease my deepest loss,
At night when I would turn and toss.
Such simple words felt from the heart
To me, whose life was torn apart
That dreaded day I got the word;
Forever changed the day I heard
My son was killed, still in his prime;
Not from a crash, not from a crime;
But due to folks who came to try
To help, not strangers passing by,
But closest friends, and one who came;
Their lives will never be the same.
“I cannot know how you must feel.
I only know my pain is real.
I feel so helpless, and would give
My life if your sweet child could live.
“To me you are so very dear;
If you’ll allow, I will stay near,
To hold your hand and cry with you.
I know these words are very true:
“My heart is broken, and I weep.
You’re in my heart, and I will keep
You in my prayers, I mourn your grief.
I pray God brings to you relief.
“And if you’re angry, that’s okay
With God, beside you He will stay.
You’re ever in my grieving heart.
I want so much to be a part
“Of healing, I won’t leave your side.
In my heart you do now abide.
My heart is broken, my sweet friend.
My love for you will never end.
“To hearts where grief will always stay
I wish to take the pain away,
But, I know this I cannot do.
Please know, my friend, that I love you.”
My thanks goes out to all of you
Whose open minds and hearts will do
All that you can to not destroy
All Hope of God’s Returning Joy.
Copyright 2015, Joel Johnson
The man who said, "While sticks and stones
Break bones, words are not bad,"
Did not know how a parent moans
Because a child is sad.
He did not know that in their love
They’d die to save their kin
From all the evil God above
Hates most, and deems as “sin.”
He didn’t how how many try
To shelter and to spare;
That even though they often cry
It’s not enough to care.
In spite of how they work and slave
To do their very best,
Sometimes they can’t protect and save
Their children from the rest
Of all the things that lurk and hide
In this big scary world.
They can not always stem the tide
As danger is unfurled.
Because, in spite of what they do
To shelter and make whole,
Their little ones are people, too,
Each with a willful soul.
I write this verse to those who blame,
To self-proclaimed “experts,”
Whose “counsel” worsens pain and shame;
Whose “wisdom” wounds and hurts.
Your words are logs and boulders thrown,
So please do pause and pray,
Before you open your big mouth
And take their peace away.
How would you like it if some fool,
Who did not have the facts,
Assumed that your parental rule
Caused all your children’s acts?
How would you like it if your pain
And loss were made much worse
By words that damage, warp, and stain?
Please take to heart this verse.
Copyright 2013, Joel Johnson