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HELP IN THE FIRST DAYS

You are not alone. In South Africa about 22 people take their own lives on any given day, with 220 others, per day, who do not “succeed” in their attempt to end their lives.
It means just more than 8 000 people per year – someone’s beloved child, husband, wife – could not live any longer, and were “successful” in their attempt to end everything. Per year, more than 80 000 people in South Africa attempted to do so, but do not “succeed”.
They are women, men, teenagers, young adults, “healthy” people, fatally ill people, people of all ages, all classes and all races, who take their own lives, mostly as a result of a terminal, fatal illness: depression. Yet the reason for every suicide is unique. Some are known to those who are left behind, for instance, when you knew the person suffered from depression; others remain a mystery – which will add to your misery. But no one may blame any other for the person’s death.
But the biggest but will always be: nothing can prepare one for the trauma you are experiencing right now.  
It might not feel like it at the moment, but there is help available in different forms.
The first period, especially – when it feels the nightmare will never end – you will need that support in different forms. Do not negate this, even if you feel you do not want to see anything or anyone.
The death of your beloved one through suicide must be the most traumatic experience in any human being’s life. Some researchers equate it to what inmates in the Nazi concentration camps experienced.
You need help, and it is available. Make use of it.

Shock and trauma
You are at the beginning of a process of bereavement which will probably last for the rest of your life. You cannot negotiate in any way around this reality, even if this is your only wish.
Different emotions will overcome you on a daily, if not hourly, if not per minute, basis. It will later feel as if you do not exist any more, but that your whole being is in the grip of emotions – emotions over which you do not have any control. It might feel as if a tsunami of tears has encapsulated you, and that you are helpless, on the verge of drowning. Then it might feel as if you can surface for some fresh air, only to be submerged again. These experiences are all part of shock and trauma, and how your body reacts to it. It is your body’s way to deal with the first days and weeks and months of disbelief and shock.
Maybe life is without any goal for you now. But: give yourself time. Give time time. The fact that it is much easier said than done, will be a realisation that will hit you soon enough. But also for that emotion, you need to be gentle with yourself.
That is why you need to look after yourself. Eat regularly, and if you cannot, ensure that you eat nutrient-rich food, like nuts. Also take vitamin supplements.
The unreality of the reality will overcome you on a regular basis. Find someone whom you can talk to, or get a diary in which you can write down your thoughts and emotions. Writing is one of the best therapies.
There are also a number of books which will help you to “work” through the different phases of the grieving process. And you can believe those who have been there: it is hard work.
Also see the list of helpful books on this never-ending new journey of your life under the tab Books from our the home page. But be warned: Nothing will be easy. There is no easy, step-by-step guide to deal with grief. You are now part of a “new life”, one you did not envisage, could never prepare for, and you need to give yourself time to find your new identity in this new life.
You will deal with many different emotions and anxieties, also physical pain. It will be natural for your body to rebel against this trauma by expressing itself as some physical pain. It is natural, and probably the result of a spasm because of tension. But: go to your medical practitioner. Do not hesitate to do this, as you should not put yourself under unnecessary strain.
In the first days you might also tremble uncontrollably, as if you are constantly cold. This is also your body’s reaction to the terrible trauma and shock it is experiencing.
If you cannot sleep, ask your doctor or pharmacist for help – there are natural sleeping aids which are safe. Later you might also want to go, for example, to meditation or yoga classes to help you relax and to improve sleeping/relaxing.
Because of society’s unease with suicide, you might also experience emotions varying from rage to shame. Always remember: no healthy person will end her or his life. Society should not look upon victims of suicide as people who were healthy. They were terminally ill, with a fatal disease. Nothing is going to make the grief of your loss less, but at least do not burden yourself with the unnecessary burden of society’s view of suicide. If nothing else, please participate in breaking down the silence and “stigma” surrounding this cause of death.
Be aware of all these emotions, and get help to enable you to work through them. Shock and trauma will be part of your life for a long time, after which grief and bereavement will set in. You can also move back and forth between emotions which you might think you have dealt with before. These are all part of the new challenges you will face on a daily basis. Again: give yourself time and be good to yourself.

The police
The police must investigate every suicide case to ensure there was no crime involved. The investigation officers will attempt to get all important information from a variety of people. They might return the next day to get more detailed statements. Give your cooperation, as it is important that they should be in a position to do their work, even if it is part of the most traumatic event in your life.
The police will hand over the case to the judicial system, which will finally decide whether a crime took place or not. It will take some time.
The following will more or less happen:

  • Relatives will, usually at home, be asked to make a statement of what has happened/what they experienced/what they know about the person’s attempt to end her/his own life.
  • Items such as a last letter, or a diary, will be collected by the police as evidence. Also give your cooperation with regard to this. You will get a photostat as soon as possible if a letter was left behind.
  • If the body is found in a place where you have access to, do not touch it before the police could do their investigation.
  • The body will be taken to the police’s mortuary for a post mortem to establish the cause of death.
  • Family or friends will have to identify the body at the mortuary after the post mortem. If you do not want to be involved, ask someone to do it on your behalf.
  • As soon as this task has been done, the police will give permission for the body to be taken to an undertaker. Arrange this before the time with the undertaker who will transport the body as soon as the police have given them the necessary permission. If the person is to be cremated, they will also get the necessary paper work from the police.
  • At the undertaker’s you will have free access to your loved one.
  • Clothes and other personal belongings will be handed back to you after the police have completed their investigation and the case has been closed.

Support and help
In this indescribable difficult time in your life you should not attempt to survive on your own. Help in different forms is available.
The police will probably immediately make available a counsellor if you live in an area where such aid is available. Otherwise, you need to ask your doctor for the necessary specialist medical and psychological help.
Also, family, friends and neighbours would like to help – even if they don’t know quite how; accept their aid. You can really tell them: yes, it will be wonderful if you can bring a soup or a stew for tomorrow evening; we will appreciate it.
If someone also wants to come and stay with you for a couple of days to give you 24 hours support, to answer the telephone, deal with the people who will be coming and going, also accept that. Even though you might wish to flee for ever, some things have to be done. Use the help that is offered.
Also see to it that children and teenagers get the necessary help and support.
It helps when others who have survived the same trauma, and who knows exactly what you are experiencing, can be involved.
Also attend, as soon as you can, grief counselling seminars, or join groups such as the Compassionate Friends, where there will be people who will know exactly what experience you are going through, and who will be able to give you the help and hope you need right now.

The funeral/commemoration service/service of thanksgiving/cremation
When the body of your loved one is released by the police, it will be taken to the funeral undertaker of your choice and instructions.
According to your faith and cultural traditions, you can then arrange for the funeral or cremation, also according to the wishes of your beloved one. If it is a custom that the body can be viewed at home, it is also your decision. Nothing is a must: it is your wishes and that of your loved one that need to be arranged for and how you wish to bid farewell from her/him.
The funeral undertaker will provide a professional service, and if you have funeral cover/a funeral policy, this cover will probably pay for all costs, depending on the policy.
The funeral undertaker will also give you the certificate of death if you did not get this from the police. You also need to take the person’s ID book together with the certificate to the police to have it stamped to indicate the person is deceased.
According to your choice, the undertaker will ask you to select a casket. If your loved one will be cremated, you can also select a small wooden casket in which her or his ashes will be handed to you.
At the undertaker you will be able to visit your loved one as often as you wish. The undertaker will also ask you to bring clothes in which you would like her/him to be buried or cremated. You can also, for instance, put flowers around the face of your loved one, or other items as a final token of your love.
Many people might have the wish to say their farewells, and you can decide how many people you would like to allow to do this, and inform the undertaker of this as you will not be there all the time.
If you want a religious funeral service, you will arrange for the order and content together with, e.g., your pastor, according to the traditions of your denomination.
Decide together with her/him the order of the service, as well as the music/hymns and messages. Remember: it is your choice, according to your needs. Do not allow the minister to prescribe her or his opinion. Some denominations for instance dislike a tribute to the deceased, because it is not focused on eternal values, but on the deceased. This is your opportunity to say farewell in the way you wish, do not allow the minister to prescribe to you what to do or not to do. If you or someone else want to deliver a tribute or tributes, you have the right to have it done in this way.
If you also want someone else besides the minister or other religious leader to take part in the service, this is also your decision – do not allow the clergyman’s ego to influence your rights in how you would like to say farewell to your loved one.
It is also your decision to decide whether you want the cause of death to be addressed in the service. It is nothing to be ashamed of, do not allow society or religion to shame your loved one’s name.
You can have the undertaker to print the funeral programme, or you can do it yourself. If it is the undertaker, take care to proofread it, as they do not have language services.
If your loved one is to be cremated, the undertaker will also make those arrangements. You can be at the crematorium for the cremation, or not – it all depends on you. If you have had a public commemoration service, the cremation for instance will be private, only with those you wish to be there for the final farewell.

Children and teenagers
Do not shy away from talking about suicide with children and teenagers. The cause of death should not be silenced. Speak about suicide as you would speak about cancer or a heart attack, or death as the result of Aids. The person could not live any more – as someone who died of terminal cancer, or someone who died of a heart attack or Aids-related complications.
Use the opportunity to bring more awareness of suicide to society, and answer questions according to the child’s age and understanding. Children want to know what happened in their lives, and what the cause of the massive disruption in their lives is.
If a parent or sibling took her or his live, inform the other siblings as far as is possible. Children protect themselves by going off to play, or “shutting down” those things that they do no understand.
Teenagers will probably rather talk to peers, and it will be wise to arrange for opportunities where they can talk to others who have had the same experience.
If you can arrange your day in such a way that it will be more or less least disruptive, and they can return to their normal routine, it will be a great help towards “normalisation”, although nothing will ever be “normal” again. It will however, give them a sense of security. You can also ask for the support of family and friends, who will do their utmost to help you and your circle to carry your burden.
Also children and teenagers need to get enough time to work through their trauma and to get enough opportunities to grieve. If not, it may later manifest in physical or psychological illnesses. If there is no support group for children or teenagers in your area, you and others who have had the same experience might want to start something like that – even if it is a play group for children, which can develop in a bond for their later lives and which will provide a secure environment for them to ask questions.

Give time time
Last but not least: you are embarking on a journey that you could not plan for, and for which nothing could prepare you.
Time will not heal, but it will help you to make the unbearable bearable. People, your faith, books, counselling, professional help – all ways and manners which you may need to help you to live with your loss, should be used.
It has been said one should give time time.
It is the beginning of a new time in your life: give yourself time to grow through this.
You might also help someone who has begun this journey after you, as you might have already journeyed past some of the first stations on this indescribable journey of loss.
And you may pass on this message: give time time. This is the message of hope. That despite everything, a new day will break. That hope must endure, always.

– Lizette Rabe Hörstmann

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