When people leave too soon, their loved ones are left wondering “what can I do?”. Recently in our communities we have lost too many of our young people before their time. The grief that arises from this is difficult for our young people to handle, and its difficult for all of us to handle. The corresponding reactions often involve unhealth.behaviour such as abusing substances or violence. Suicide happens when people feel helpless and hopeless. The helplessness gets worse when there is no action we feel we can take that can improve the situation. We feel hopeless when there is no one to help us, a friend, an ally, an example.
So…what CAN we do?
The first and most important thing we can do when we first hear about the loss of someone we love, is confirm the facts. Check with a direct source, ie family member, what has happened and that the person in question is indeed passed away & isn’t in the hospital or missing. There have been false alarms in the past where incorrect information about someone’s passing (they were actually in jail) caused an intense amount of grief that was not necessary. Next, acknoweldge stages of grief will happen (See below image). Some people say these stages of grief happen in a certain order, in my experiences personally and with community members, these stages occur in different orders for different people. The closer you were, or the more sudden/extreme the loss, the longer the grieving process seems to be.
Most important: take care of yourself immediately
It may sound ‘selfish’, but remember in the last stage, where we acknowledged we were in a grieving process? That means we may not sleep or eat the best, we may over stress ourselves out over things we can’t control – stop that. Do a medicine wheel check: take a look at what you may need to feel balanced and healthy in your mind, your body, your heart & your spirit. This may mean napping, calling to talk to someone for support, singing, writing down your feelings, drawing, exercising, praying, smudging, crying or other actions that bring balance. If we’ve just lost someone, think of how that person would likely want you to live a happy and long life. Listen music & do what you need to do, but especially when you are greiving around others, be conscious of their condition/state, communicate as clearly as you can and listen when they are sharing too. This is one of the hardest parts, finding & confirming final details about funerals/vigils. By collecting correct details of arrangements, ceremonies, wakes etc. you are then able to share that information with those close to you who would like to attend. If you are not the right person to contact the family directly, approach someone who can gather those details for you. Once we are feeling stable, connect with another friend/relative who may also be grieving and who you feel may need some support or comforting.
Once you are with a friend, together you can determine what your individual actions will also be. There are cases where you want to take an action to honour someone, as is the case with ‘Sean’s Sweetgrass’ & the one nail I personally paint black to remind myself of the importance of showing & recognizing love. There are cases where the action is simply to reach out to a few others as a team, notifying, offering support. Especially we must reach out to our youth because they may not necessarily ask us for help. They may not accept the help, but you can let them know you are there if they need you and your own example of taking care of yourself will speak volumes. We prevent our youth from feeling hopeless because they see us taking care of ourselves AND they hear us say good words to them. We are the example our youth need to have hope
Raise your voice, reach out; we are not helpless.