Norman watched from the shade of the porch as his father walked slowly toward the barn to do the milking. Clouds of dust swirled around his father’s boots as he scuffed through the dry earth. In a few hours he’d return to the house, and the family would gather at the table for dinner.
His father stopped before he swung the barn door wide and glanced back toward the house. Norman clattered down the stairs and toward the garden. Dad expected Norman to finish the weeding before he finished the milking.
But three hours later, Dad hadn’t returned to the house. Norman made the long walk to the barn with his older brother. Something inside him had told him his little brothers and sisters would need to be spared.
He was right. Eleven-year-old Norman and his fourteen-year-old brother carried the body back to the house alone. The trauma of their childhood loss would echo through the lives of their children and their children.
Sixty percent of us will experience the loss of someone we know through suicide. Unfortunately, in my husband’s family, suicide was a shameful family secret. Dan didn’t learn of his grandfather’s suicide or the family predisposition to depression until he was nearly thirty.
And as the family members who cared for Norman in our home in the final years of his life, we didn’t fully understand the relationship between trauma and mental illness until several years after his death. Unfortunately, we found that the church struggled to help us understand mental illness, depression, and suicide and how to integrate our faith with the most painful areas of real life.
1. Show compassion. Begin with “Tell me your story–what happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?” “Prevention may be a matter of a caring person with the right knowledge being available in the right place at the right time.” American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
2. Create understanding. Help destigmatize mental illness. Work toward trauma-informed care in churches, schools, hospitals, the workplace.
3. Help create resource networks. For more information, join the Suicide Prevention and Awareness Conference being offered by Saddleback Church on November 22, 2014, in conjunction with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. To participate with the conference via YouTube, click HERE. Saddleback is leading the nation in creating networks among faith leaders, police, first responders, educators, mental health leaders, armed service personnel, and educators–networking that is critically needed.
4. Reach out. Learn more about suicide prevention and how you can help. Worried about what to say to someone who think might be thinking about suicide? Learn more here about what to say.
More information in our next post on how to interact with a friend, student, or colleague you think might be suicidal.
For a spoken word and music resource for someone who’s lost a loved one to suicide, check out Chaos of the Heart, produced by MusicfortheSoul.org.