These are the cringe-worthy things that we say to parents and loved ones left behind by suicide.
By LISA GUTIERREZ
The Kansas City Star
At least you have other children.
Hes in a better place.
Arent you over this by now?
I know how you feel.
No, you probably dont know how they feel, Bonnie and Mickey Swade would like you to know.
Its going on 10 years since their son Brett took his life in the familys backyard. The Overland Park couple lost friends after he died, friends who they suspect didnt know what to say to them or, worse, played the blame game.
I guess its human nature, Mickey Swade says. Everything that happens, theres a cause for it. There has to be somebody to blame for everything. Thats part of the stigma that is attached to suicide.
The Swades founded a suicide support group hosting its annual Remembrance Walk on Sunday and for the last decade have watched public discourse about suicide grow.
Schools now preach prevention. Hollywood stars make public service announcements. When The Bachelor star Gia Allemand and former Disney star Lee Thompson Young, both 29, killed themselves in August, shock flooded Twitter.
But one on one? Friend to friend? Words tend to fail us, and we dont know what to say to families like the Swades.
Members of their support group will say that someone said something really stupid, or My best friend Ive known for years and years didnt even call me. Those things are very hurtful, Bonnie says. Its because people do not know how to deal with someone who has lost somebody to suicide.
Says Mickey: Its OK to call your friend or come by and tell them that you dont know how to deal with this.
Such honesty would have been preferred to what some of Bonnies co-workers said to her after Bretts death.
Ill never forget this one, Bonnie says. She said, Call me if you need anything, email me if you need anything.
I thought email her? I dont think so.
They heard that often call me if you need anything.
They would have preferred people doing something instead of just asking the question.
Just call and say, Im thinking about you. I know youre going through a tough time. I know my words feel empty, but I just want you to know that Im thinking of you, Bonnie says.
Another of her co-workers, clearly flummoxed over the news of Bretts death, told Bonnie: Oh, thats really poopy.
I just thought, oh my gosh, Bonnie says.
They heard bromides, too, like this: Hes in a better place.
You think, well, hes not really in a better place because hes not here with us, Bonnie says.
People think they are giving comfort by saying things like God never gives you more than you can deal with.
Its OK to say those things, but further down the road, Mickey says. Its not something you want to hear right after. Youre still dealing with the loss.
And the grief, Bonnie adds.
Give the family time to grieve, Mickey says, then you can say those kinds of things and they come out right.
They never hid the circumstances of Bretts death. They wanted no secrets. Everyone in their life knew that he was found hanged in the backyard.
After he died, an odd thing happened. Some people stopped using his name altogether. Theyd say, Oh, were sorry about your son, Bonnie recalls.
But she goes on: His name is Brett. Its very important that people use the name of the person that is gone because that creates a real person.
Its not that people are intentionally cruel or insensitive. Sometimes, they just dont think before they speak, which would help them avoid many an awkward moment.
Youve got to be aware of who youre talking to, Mickey says. If you know youre talking to somebody whos lost somebody to suicide chances are you know how they did it.
His wife now cant stand to hear the oft-used phrase hanging out.
That just puts a knife in me because thats how our son hanging out is not necessarily a term that I use, Bonnie says.
What also hurts to hear: When someone says theyre so upset theyre just going to shoot themselves.
Too many people in our group have lost people who shot themselves, Bonnie says.
Where words can get clunky, hugs never do, say the Swades, who welcomed friends and family who visited after Bretts death.
You want to see people, Bonnie says. I mean, there are some people who dont. But I would say most people in general want to feel that someone is there to give them a hug, to give them some support.
To even call and say, I just wanted you to know that youve been in my thoughts.
Since Bretts death, one of Bonnies closest friends has started a tradition of calling on either his birthday or the anniversary of his death.
Shell always say, How are you doing? Hope things are going well, Bonnie says.
Some families yearn to talk about their lost loved ones, say the Swades, one reason they join support groups like theirs.
We have some people who have been coming for four or five years because nobody wants to hear their story anymore, Bonnie says. Its old news.
We hear that people say to them, When are you going to return to normal? Well, first of all, whats normal? And second, theyre never going to be the same as they once were. You are forever changed.
Lending an eager ear is a more welcome gesture than the I-know-how-you-feels the Swades heard early on.
People who havent been in our shoes try to say that because theyve lost their father or a relative to something they know, Mickey says.
But it isnt the same as losing someone to suicide. Theres a definite, distinct difference.
To reach Lisa Gutierrez, call 816-234-4987 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.