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what to say {9/26/12}

Kelley Clink

Yet another friend of mine has lost someone to suicide.

First off, let me say for the record that I hate this. In addition to that: I am genuinely surprised when it happens, as if the fact that I don't want anyone to ever have to go through that kind of grief is enough to have eradicated suicide from the planet. Clearly it isn't. The latest statistics (from 2009) show that the suicide rate is at an all time high.

This breaks my heart. Every time someone I know becomes a survivor of suicide, I want to scream NO! and push them back over to the other side of the line. You know that line--the one that cuts across your life like a canyon, dividing it into Before and After. But I can't. The most I can do is apologize, offer an ear and a shoulder, and wander around in a state of shock for a few days.

I still have a hard time believing how bad I am when it comes to dealing with loss. I want to be that person who knows exactly what to say to make someone feel supported and comforted. I want to be that person who knows that they are supposed to drop off a casserole or clean a bathroom, send a card once a month or take someone out to the movies. Instead I open and close my mouth a lot, like a fish, and say things like "I wish I knew what to say."

Here's the thing: when I hear that a person I care about has lost someone to suicide, I try to remember what it was like in those first days. I try to think specifically about the things people said or did that were helpful. And that's how I end up with a fish face. I don't remember anything anyone said or did. I was so blown apart, so broke down, that nothing touched me. I remember wishing many months later that there had been more cards, more care, more people asking me how I was doing (how I was really doing).

But the truth is, there are no magic words. The closest I can find, the ones I say the most and the ones I really want to believe, are: "you are not alone." And then there are the ones I save for later, which I know unequivocally to be true: "it gets better. So so so much better."

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