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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Trustey

A non-complete, how-to guide

In counseling, a common fear beginning counselors have is to bring up suicide with clients. Counselors-in-training don’t want to put the idea of suicide into their client’s mind. If we ask clients if they’re feeling suicidal, we might give them this magical idea they’ve never considered.

Plot twist. If the client is considering taking their own life, the client has already thought about suicide. We aren’t bringing up sad thoughts, and we aren’t putting ideas into someone’s head. Instead, we let the client know that we are open to discussing this really hard and sensitive topic with them.

“I’m not afraid to talk about the thing that you feel like you’re supposed to keep to yourself.”

I’ve been reflecting on this concept as the sixth anniversary of Jake’s passing approaches. So often, I’ll have friends tell me that they have a fear of bringing up the losses. What if I’m having a good day and they make me sad? What if I hadn’t thought about them all day, and now we have to sit here and feel awkward?

I made this for Jake for our six month anniversary…cringe? cute?

Plot twist. People in your life who are grieving are always thinking about their loved ones. They’re my first thought when I wake and my last before I fall asleep. At this point, it’s typically happy thoughts that fill my head, perhaps awaking from a dream that involved Anna refusing to let me keep my suitcase in her dorm (this was last night’s dream, and probably my conscious telling me I need to unpack from last weekend’s wedding festivities). And sometimes, there are sad thoughts. And a lot of the time, it’s just neutral. Accepting that this is how life is and not assigning judgment to the situation. All of that said, by bringing it up, you give me permission to talk about it.

“I’m not afraid to talk about the thing that you feel like you’re supposed to keep to yourself.”

As I kept reflecting on the gratitude for the people who aren’t afraid to talk about loss, but also about the humans who we lost, I realized that there really is no guidebook for grief. It’d be cool if there was, and I’m no expert (though I hope few have as much experience as me), but I compiled a list of hot tips when someone you love has lost someone they love.

  1. Don’t be afraid to talk about the person. Trust me when I say we are already thinking of the person we lost. You have not put any ideas into our heads or made us sad. Instead, it feels SO GOOD to know others remember and miss and love the same way we do.

  2. Be prepared for flakiness. I cannot tell you how many times I commit to doing something and then a song comes on my Spotify and suddenly I can’t do anything. I’m the queen of a good excuse, an “I’ll meet you there,” and an Irish goodbye. Make sure to check in on your people when they disappear.

  3. Consider their jealousy. This one took a long time for me to recognize in myself. I was (am?) so envious of so many people. The college roommates who have the most loving boyfriends in the world. The childhood best friend who gets to live with her little sister. The advisor whose dad still celebrates all his accomplishments. Your people may feel jealous and not even know it. Find times to be together just the two of you, minus the reminders of what’s missing. Incorporate your person into the relationship (I make a great third wheel) so that they don’t listen to inside jokes all through dinner.

  4. Don’t feel guilty. Despite what the last bullet point said - never feel guilty for who you have in your life. Seeing the ones we love get to love is the best feeling, and it outweighs the pain and jealousy. Keep bringing happiness into our lives.

  5. Always give your widow friends a plus one to a wedding. Of all the things I do, weddings are by far the hardest. A dad’s toast, a sister as the MOH, and marrying the love of your life. It’s a trifecta of grief. Coupled with watching all the happy couples on the dance floor, weddings can be tough for your wids - and also something we would never miss. Toss in a plus one. Odds are it won’t be used, but the option to go in with someone by your side makes all the difference.

  6. Don’t ask, do. 99% of the time, we don’t know what we need. Asking “how can I help?” has such good intention!!! And when we aren’t a hot mess, it’s so appreciated. But sometimes, we need the decisions to be taken away. Show up to give a hug to the friend who needs it. Send an either/or option for dinner in a text and let the friend make just that one decision. Sometimes, we just need things to happen to know we needed them.

  7. Have I mentioned talking about the person? Talk about the really hard thing you think you’re not supposed to talk about.

This list is non-exhaustive, and I reserve the right to add to it as I see fit.

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