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I know how you feel, Mrs Parkinson…..

“I know how you feel, Mrs Parkinson…..

….my dog died.” At first sight this might seem a rather insensitive response to someone who had recently been bereaved. We can rarely say with confidence that we know how someone else is feeling. But this came from a six year old who knew that his teacher had been absent for two weeks because her husband had died. He was trying to identify with her loss and convey his compassion in the only way he knew how. Mrs Parkinson understood that.

As adults we have more resources to draw on; our life experiences, discussions that we might have had or resources we can access but it can be particularly difficult to know what to say or do when the death is by suicide. Too many of us know of someone who has died by suicide. It is estimated that a death by suicide can affect directly and indirectly up to 135 people*.

I was recently approached by a friend about how he might best support a colleague who had lost his son in this way, a truly tragic situation of which our family has personal knowledge.

In such a circumstance, we will be anxious not to say the wrong thing, upset the person and make them feel even worse. However, in my experience, the most upsetting thing is for someone not to say anything at all- or worse, cross the street to avoid any contact. A kindly nod or sympathetic smile, a card, a short text which doesn’t require a response assures the bereaved that someone has them in mind. When Jonathan, in whose name the charity was founded, died at the age of 35 we were very touched to receive a card both from his primary school teacher and the personal tutor who guided him through secondary school who shared their memories of him.

Everyone grieves differently and it can be hard to know what to do or say. The Support After Suicide Partnership has put together some thoughts and ideas on how to reach out and support someone who has been bereaved by suicide. I would recommend it. You can read it here.

Val McCartney

Co-Founder and Trustee Jonathan’s Voice


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