Franklin James Cook

Hospice Chaplain Ponders Lessons Learned from Survivors

In Grief, Stigma on January 24, 2009 at 12:07 pm

ORIGINAL COLUMN — Ted Swann, a chaplain for Burke Hospice & Palliative Care of Valdese, N.C., writes in a column for the Morganton News Herald, “In my opinion, death by suicide is the most complicated grief to deal with.”

There are no goodbyes … Once, I facilitated a support group for suicide survivors … [in which] the group of six widows ITAL taught me. I was a good listener. Once they felt safe with one another they shared deep feelings, frustrations, anger and disappointments.

Swann says he learned several important lessons from listening to the members of that support group:

People don’t want to talk about suicide. It’s a different grief … There are at least these three reasons we don’t talk about it: The stigma — What do you feel when people whisper behind your back? … If you don’t know what to say, just be there for your friend. He/she is hurting and is an unfortunate victim … It’s too painful — It’s a sudden, violent death. There’s no gentle way to die by suicide … It is excruciatingly painful, but communication is vital … Theological beliefs — Many Christian churches, and individual members of them, are divided on this question. Personally, I want to look at all of a person’s life, not just the last 60 seconds. I accept the belief that the God of grace encompasses all of life.

Swann also makes several observations about the “feelings of anger, guilt and shame” that the support group members shared with one another.

Wrongly, we think, someone is responsible. This is more common with a suicide death than with other illnesses. This is an important quotation: “The other day I heard the father of a boy who had committed suicide say, ‘Everyone has a skeleton in their closet. But the person who kills themselves leaves their skeleton in another’s closet.”

Each loved one wracks their mind and tears the heart questioning, “What could I have done to prevent this?”

In the end, he shares his opinion:

The suicide survivors, wounded healers, are the best therapists for each other. Together they work through feelings of shame and guilt.

And he offers some excellent advice:

A good rule to follow: As we meet people each day, let our kindness and caring be intentional. After all, we don’t know what just happened in their lives. “In response to all He has done for us let us outdo each other in being helpful and kind to each other and in doing good” (Living Bible — Hebrews 10:24).

Isn’t it time we talked? I have a friend who is a whittler. The finest I’ve known. He and I made a covenant that if the time comes, we will say to each other, “Isn’t it time we talked?”

[The abridged URL for  http://tinyurl.com/ChaplainPonders .]

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