Minnesota Women’s Press columnist Ellie Krug collects stories of kindness, pain, and support from around the country. Here is some of what she shared this month as part of her newsletter The Ripple, which noted her radio show conversation with one of our January essayists Danna Nelson. [I will be featured on her upcoming show, talking about Changemakers Alliance.]
My show January 22 had me interviewing Danna Nelson, a 25-year-old woman battling terminal cancer who has become an advocate for medical aid in dying; last year, the “Minnesota End of Life Option Act” was introduced into the MN legislature, but it went nowhere. Click here to listen to Danna’s interview.
Just like much of America, a neighborhood in Baltimore County, with rows of wood and brick townhouses and tree-lined streets, is filled with people struggling with the effects of the pandemic. One man, Matt Riggs, knew that his across-the-street neighbor, Kim Morton, was dealing with depression and anxiety and the loss of a loved one. To let Kim know that he was thinking of her, Matt surprised Kim by stretching a string of Christmas lights from his house to hers. It was a symbolic gesture to show that the two households were connected to each other.
Matt’s imaginative act of showing compassion for a neighbor caught on. Soon, people up and down the street (one estimate was that 75 percent of the neighborhood participated) were stringing Christmas lights house to house. One neighbor, self-described as a “go-big-or-go-home” person, used bent dry cleaning coat hangers to fashion the lights to read, “Love Lives Here.”
Another neighbor remarked, “It’s the best neighborhood. Everybody is friendly and helpful and loving and kind.” Matt agreed, saying, “It really does represent a connection that we are feeling…this is a physical manifestation of that.”
All of this found its mark with Kim Morton, the first person to have lights attached to her house. She said, “It made me look up, literally and figuratively, above all the things that were dragging me down. It was light pushing against the darkness.”
It is the old adage that one kind act begets other kind acts. And too, this story shows that using your imagination (how brilliant to connect lights house-to-house!) to reach out to humans can make such a difference to someone.
January 31 will mark the 32nd anniversary of my father’s suicide. It’s a date that my younger brother, sister and I always commemorate with early morning texts saying, “I love you.” Those who have read my memoir will recall how Tom Terrific taking his life wounded me and so many others.
As I wrote in the book, I see my father standing in the back of every room that I enter.
For this month’s Inclusivity Tip, I thought that I would offer suggestions on how to be supportive of and inclusive to those who are left behind after someone voluntarily ends their life. These “suicide loss survivors” often find themselves alone and hurting. What can others do to help?
From a survivor’s perspective, the most important thing is to not ignore what just happened. All too often, because people don’t know what to say about a suicide, they say nothing, as if the suicide never even occurred. This simply makes the pain worse, because it is so easy to then believe that people just don’t care.
My suggestion, and that of others in this space, is to bravely acknowledge the loss. One doesn’t need to have the wisdom of a monk; all that someone could say is, “I’m sorry this happened. Would you like to talk about it?”
I realize this means the listener might have to bear hearing some painful stuff, but please consider what the loss survivor is going through. Just knowing that someone cares and is willing to sit and listen really could make all the difference in the world.
Please also remember that one’s grief or suffering can show up in different ways. Please be patient and understanding with how the loss survivor may be reacting, whether it’s in the form of taking time off from work or passing on socializing.
Another thing that supporters could do is to remember that when the press or social media report about other suicides — like with national figures — that too will affect your friend, the suicide loss survivor. It would certainly be compassionate to let your friend know that you are thinking of them, even though their loss may have occurred months or years before.
Finally, allies can speak up for loss survivors. All too often within social circles, there’s judgment cast toward the loss survivor, as in, “How could they have not known?” or “Why didn’t they do something?”
Allies can educate by saying that often no one sees or understands the signs when someone is contemplating ending their life. Don’t let the judgment of others go on to compound the suffering of a loss survivor.