How to Ease Grief After Suicide

In Loving Memory headstone inscription

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Suicide Leaves Friend Dealing with Grief

Sculptor Hanno Ahrens was a big man with a huge personality. He created big works of art. He bought a big piece of property in the northeastern corner of California called Surprise Valley. He built a huge barn with a Quonset hut on top.

And in that barn he took his own life with a rifle.

Friends say there was no warning. No depression. He was married and had a daughter. He had plans for the coming months.

Arhens left a suicide note to his wife, daughter, brother and his dear friend, musician and carpenter John Sherman.

The note said, “I love you. I love everybody but myself.”

In mourning, in grief, in wondering if there were warning signs that were missed, Sherman shared his sadness and search for understanding about his friend’s death on the public radio program On Point.

“It took everyone by surprise,” said Sherman. Friends and family saw “…nothing that drove him to kill himself.”

Sherman said his friend drank quite a bit and “had issues.” Then again, they seemed to be rather common issues, and none that indicated suicide.

Dealing with Loss of One Who is Beloved

Grieving takes time. In the mourning and soul searching Sherman has done since the suicide of his friend in April, he found some things that began to help him confront the emotional pain. Discussing his friend’s vibrant life and sense of being 100 percent present in everything he did brought a sense of gratitude for the close friendship during their adult years.

Sherman has found some comfort in recalling some of his friend’s favorite writings, like the words of William Kittredge from his book, The Nature of Generosity:
“Turn your life into a gift and then pour it out to others,
And thus to yourself as you prepare to vanish.”

Some other personal experiences that Sherman said helped ease the grief a bit may be helpful for anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one:

  1. Talk about the person you lost with others who loved him or her.
    Sherman said talking with Ahrens’ wife was an important start in confronting the shock. Sharing the burden of the loss of the person they both loved lightened the weight of the loss somewhat.
  2. Remember the times you spent together.
    The two men met in New York and explored the city together, often on their bicycles. Sherman recalled their Wednesday night ritual of going out for sushi and a drink. Sherman recalled a time he went to visit Ahrens in California. Ahrens gave him specific instructions on the route and told him he must stop and have a swim in Pyramid Lake, Nevada along the way. He was advised to arrive at his friend’s ranch in Surprise Valley just at sunset. “He sent me on a pilgrimage,” said Sherman.
  3. Find a way to memorialize the life of your loved one.
    Just after he found out Ahrens had taken his own life, Sherman was scheduled to play at a fundraiser for a suicide prevention organization. That was eerily coincidental…but then again, maybe not. Sherman decided it was one of the first important ways to honor his friend and others, who may face that personal torment that makes life, at the moment, seem too difficult to continue. Another way that friends and family may comfort each other will likely be in a memorial ceremony. The shock of the suicide was too much at first, but some type of memorial is expected to when the shock wears off a bit.
  4. Take to heart the words your loved one lived by.
    Sherman has found a sense of connection in reflecting deeply on the meaning of some of the writings his friend preferred, like William Stafford’s poem:

A Ritual to Read to Each Other
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to
sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

What to do if you or someone you love may be considering suicide

  • Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
  • Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
  • Offer hope that alternatives are available, but do not offer glib reassurance.
  • Take action. Remove means, such as guns or stockpiled pills.
  • Get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255.

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References:

Sherman, John, “Grief and Gratitude after a Friend’s Death,” On Point, WBUR, Aug. 4, 2016.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

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