I’ve been experiencing another cycle of grief and loss which I guess explains my lack of activity over the past few weeks. My husband’s sister ended her life after a long battle with mental illness so it’s been quite difficult lately. It wasn’t altogether unexpected but the whole process was horrible and included the police arriving on our doorsteps to tell us the news, just like in a television show. We are through the worst of it now I think. We also had to go and clean out her room which was a confronting experience as there were many signs of her mental illness, not least the many many bottles of pills of various kinds. She was living a very unhappy and limited life, so although it was very sad when she passed away, it was also something of a relief. This might sound harsh and I appreciate that you will all have different views on the subject of suicide or may have personal experiences, so I won’t presume to know what you are thinking, but I guess this leads me to the reason for this post.
It’s been strange to see how different people react when you tell them that someone close to you has died. Sometimes they are very sympathetic and at other times they are surprisingly cool. One of my close friends lost her sister to cancer last week and when she told her work colleagues, one of them actually burst into tears, which surprised her a little until her colleague began recalling her own grief at the passing of her grandfather some 12 years ago. It turned out that she wasn’t really that concerned about my friend’s situation, it just brought back her own sad memories and she couldn’t cope. My friend said she just stood there wondering if she should be comforting the other person. She was a little angry that her colleague chose to focus on her own emotions rather than offering her any support.
I haven’t told many people that my sister-in-law ended her own life as it can be very confronting for them and I don’t want to upset people unnecessarily. Another reason is because some people seem to be overly interested in the gory details and I find this both disturbing and annoying. At the funeral, a friend of the family bailed up my husband and wanted to know all about what the police had said, and how they had identified the body. Fortunately my husband had the presence of mind to say “this is not the time or place to be discussing this” and I was glad that he said that. Some people can be incredibly tactless.
Another woman at the funeral came up to me and said that I had been my sister-in-law’s “bete noire”. I didn’t really know what this meant, but I gathered she wasn’t paying me a complement. (When I got home and looked it up, I was alarmed to find that it meant someone to be detested and avoided. Lovely!) I have spent the last four years trying to help my sister-in-law manage her finances as she wasn’t able to do this on her own. This meant that I sometimes had to say no to things, which was hard. I often felt like an ogre but I tried my best to look after her interests and well-being.
I was pretty upset by this woman’s comments and shared my distress with my daughter. Fortunately for me, she’s a feisty young thing, so after the funeral was over she spoke to her and told her that she’s been tactless and unkind. I hadn’t been able to do this myself so I was secretly pleased and proud of my daughter. She doesn’t take any shit from anyone, especially when it’s been directed at her mother!
I wanted to end this post with some advice on what to say to someone who is recently bereaved but I don’t think I have the right to lecture other people and I also know that every situation is different. I think that if you are struggling to know what to say in this situation, it’s probably best to say “I’m sorry for your loss”. Then you aren’t being too inquisitive, but you are leaving the way open for someone to talk more about how they feel, if they want to.
I hope that you are all travelling well, but if you aren’t, please talk to someone. Life can be hard and we all need a shoulder to cry on.