I’ve learned that there are three kinds of people. Those who say too much, those who say the wrong thing and those who don’t know what to say.
In my heart, and, I hope, in theirs, I know there is no ill-will intended. I know that talking about death or suicide makes some people uncomfortable. But, and I’m only speaking from my personal experience, there are just some things that should never be said to a parent who has lost their child to suicide.
I’ve come up with a list of things I hope to never hear again. If you’ve said these things to me, please don’t be offended. Consider this a Public Service Announcement.
1. Committed suicide. The word “committed” has a negative connotation, as in committed a crime. People who die by suicide are not criminals (although they used to be, hence the terminology). Instead, you can say “died by suicide,” “took his own life,” “completed suicide” or even just “died.”
2. You have to find your new normal. What does that even mean? Normal, by definition, is something that is naturally occurring. Losing a child to suicide will never be normal. Every parent who has lost a child this way doesn’t want a “new” normal. They just want their old normal back – the one where they still had their child.
3. God has a plan. Really? THIS was God’s master plan? To tear my beautiful baby boy from my arms and create a gaping wound in my heart? Wow. Every time I hear this, all I can think of is that, if this is true, then God needs a new Planning Manager.
4. A permanent solution to a temporary problem. This really does nothing to ease a grieving parent’s pain. We already know that our child made a bad, stupid, tragic and heart-wrenching decision. Please don’t trivialize what they did or their thought process by offering up platitudes.
5. I know how you feel. Unless you’ve lost a child to suicide, no you don’t. Losing a child to an illness or losing a parent is in an entirely different category. We’re supposed to outlive our parents, so, while it’s tragic, its not unexpected or uncommon. A child who loses his/her battle with an illness most likely fought to live until the very end. My child did not. He gave up his life of his own accord, without a fight – by his own choice and by his own hand. There is a level of grief there that you can’t understand unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes.
6. You can’t change what happened. My first reaction to this, when it was said to me, was “No kidding?” Yes, I’m fully aware that Dr. Emmet Brown has not yet created his time-traveling DeLorean. But, I will yearn for, agonize over, and mourn the loss of my boy for the rest of my life. Not being able to change what happened certainly doesn’t mean that I have to be ok with it.
7. You have to get past this/get better or You should move on/get over it. Yes, I know that I do. But it has to be on my timetable and not one that you think I should be following. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that grief has no calendar and is not a straight path. Your grief will be different from mine and mine will be different from the next person’s. And I will never be over it. Never.
So, now you’re probably asking, “Well, Jacki. If I can’t say these things, what should I say?” The answer is simple. Say what’s in your heart as long as it’s sincere. Offer your compassion only if its genuine. Or just listen. Allow me to cry. Allow me to be silent. Allow me to wallow in my misery. But also allow me to talk about Peyton and talk about him often. And you should talk about him a lot too. Share your memories of the good times you had with him. Share your own feelings of grief (so long as you don’t pretend yours is worse than mine). Don’t disappear. When you say you’re going to be there, then be there. Don’t remove yourself from my life because you’re uncomfortable with me. Trust me, I’m uncomfortable with me too sometimes.