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During the month of October America celebrates Halloween. This has become the second most decorative event in our country after Christmas. It is amazing to see all of the decorations around houses and surrounding areas. People are going all out in their decorations. When I think of Halloween I think of masks and I also think about how flippantly people depict death. When I think of masks I also think of the masks that people put on in masking their real, desperate feelings. Over the years I have heard it said countless times that the person who completed suicide gave no real signs about their contemplating wanting to end their life. They hid this fact from everyone. Survivors are in shock that their loved one could hide their desperate condition. One would think that if someone was thinking about taking their life they would give off some sign or message. People in this desperate state don't give off signals. Why? It could be that they do not want to be stopped and if they shared what was going through their minds someone would try to get help for them and then their plans would be thwarted. People contemplating suicide have no faith in medical intervention or trying to go for counseling thinking that this would only be another futile exercise that would lead to nothing. Suicide is the only answer for their pain. Another reason people might not want to share their innermost thoughts is that they are too embarrassed or ashamed of having such thoughts. They are fully aware of the stigma attached to mental illness and they are too ashamed of these thoughts. One lesson we all can learn is to do what we can to lessen the stigma attached to mental illness. Mental illness is an illness like any other illness and there should be no shame attached to this illness. Mental illness attacks a different part of the person. Instead of attacking the heart or some other vital organ mental illness attacks the mind and the brain and the soul.
Another thought that comes to my mind when I think of masks is the mask that survivors wear during the grieving process. My suggestion is that survivors be honest when asked how they are doing. Survivors don't have to give every detail about the grief journey nor should they give the impression that everything is going along very well. Something like admitting that the grief journey is a painful experience can be shared without unloading every aspect of the grief experience. Survivors don't have to "tough it out". Showing external manifestations of grief is not a sign of weakness nor is the stoic approach a sign of strength. Showing signs of grief is nothing more than admitting that someone is human. A loved one has died very suddenly and tragically and the resulting emotions are signs that survivors are human and are exhibiting a human reaction such as tears or a sense of sadness. Survivors do a disservice by pretending that everything is going on as usual and wearing the mask that hides their real feelings. I am not suggesting each and every person that survivors encounter should get every detail about the pain but the pain should not be hidden either.
Another aspect of Halloween is the flippant approach that decorations depict about death. There is nothing flippant about death. Survivors can become quite upset as they see dummies hanging from trees or other parts of a neighborhood. This is especially upsetting if a survivor has lost a loved one from hanging. That scene is played over and over again in the memories of survivors–especially those who found their loved one. To see how flippantly death is portrayed during these Halloween scenes can be very disconcerting and upsetting. There is nothing flippant about losing a loved one to suicide and to see how death is displayed during the Halloween season can evoke anger from survivors. If some scene is particularly upsetting to a survivor a gentle reminder to a neighbor could be warranted. Their worlds have stopped because of the suicide of a loved one. The cruel lesson is that for the surrounding world around survivors the world has not stopped and lives have not been altered due to a suicide. For survivors of a suicide death is neither superficial nor lighthearted. It has impacted survivors in ways that are inexplicable. Seeing such lighthearted and superficial depictions of death can result in survivors being offended and hurt a great deal. My suggestion is that when the scene can be removed or altered survivors should take the initiative and express their feelings. People are generally very sensitive to the situation and will either remove or alter the scene. Survivors do not have to suffer in silence.
Survivors look at the world through very different eyes. A scene such as a dummy hanging from a tree is not funny. It can bring back memories and a visceral response that causes survivors to relive their own experience of the suicide of a loved one. The scene is played and replayed over again. It is never really over. The suicide of a loved one becomes part of the DNA of survivors. Part of the grieving process is the successful assimilation of the experience into one's psyche. It will remain there forever and every once in a while it will rear its ugly head. Halloween is one of those events.
As always, I want to assure each and every member of the LOSS family of my thoughts and prayers on a daily basis. I do this during my quiet time each day. I encourage members of the LOSS family to do the same for each other–especially for those who have recently joined our family.
Keep On Keepin' On,