On Monday September 10, communities and individuals around the globe connected up on a common cause — World Suicide Prevention Day.
The day featured candles, waiata, karakia, exercycles, yellow ribbons, walks for hope, good conversation, remembering, sharing, crying and laughing together ... and plenty more.
"What's the point of that?" a recently bereaved parent asked me. I saw where he was coming from. Nothing the day could achieve will bring back his boy.
Anniversaries of occasions (particularly when it comes to loss) are difficult things. In many ways, it makes no difference whether today is the 7th, the 15th or the 17th — they are all just numbers.
In reality, grief doesn't go into hiding until a particular day — we remember our loved ones every day. We all know that a specific day and a month approaching in the calendar can bring to the surface a wealth of emotion, in anticipation almost as much as the day itself.
It's not just the date, we're also subconsciously aware of changes of season which match the bereavement, the backdrop to the story and the arrival of events that happen annually close to the date.
World Suicide Prevention Day is a kind of collective anniversary for the planet, but it's as much about looking forwards as it is about remembering.
Grief is its own unique journey, in which there is a time for speaking and a time for silence, a time for tears and a time for laughter, a time for asking questions and a time to be deeply, deeply sad.
There may be a time for anger — there's also a time for hope. Our journey through grief doesn't follow a linear progression like an elevator making steady progress up a building, floor by floor — the experience is much more like the lift being randomly summoned up and down from this floor to the other, like when a kid has amused himself by calling the lift on one floor and then rushing up the stairs to call it to another, then another.
Ever had that experience of mistakenly getting off on the wrong floor? Pretty frustrating if you end up stranded there, waiting for the lift to reappear.
In my experience (and that's all I can speak of), there's floors on the grief journey which are generally unhelpful to stop at (like men's fashion when you're looking for kitchenware).
On some floors, you just want to hammer the door-close button as soon as they glide open.
For example, the stop where people are kindly, and well-meaningly offering useless platitudes such as "everything happens for a reason", or "I know just how you'll feeling" (no, you don't).
There's a floor you find yourself where there's lots of frantic action — people arriving, flowers dropped off and you're numbly picking powerpoint photos for the service while still in shock, and then, just as suddenly, the crowd disperses and it all goes terribly quiet.
When our loved one dies, we need time and space to take in what's happened. We could benefit from slowing stuff down. There are floors where people are crowding you with solutions and advice.
"You need to be strong for the children ... " (No! We have feelings for a reason, there's nothing wrong with our children seeing we are hurting ... ), or "it's time to move on / I was thinking you'd be over it by now." The most insensitive and hurtful grenade you can chuck at a bereaved someone.
In conversation about loss, and particularly suicide, it's a relatively recent cultural discovery that an awkward silence in the lift isn't working. We need to talk about it, and that HAS to be good progress. But we're also learning that it's not only important THAT we talk about suicide, but HOW we talk about it.
Misinformation and bad advice can do way more harm than good. Not sure what to say? Express your feelings through an act of compassion — a hug, a few bags of groceries, a walk together. Not just the week after, but how about two months or two years afterwards?
There's a sometimes hard-to-find floor called "hope". We've seen a lot of construction on that floor lately. There's a section where we're welcomed to remember and cherish our loved ones and to talk about them (and to them), freely.
There are watering holes where, if you or a loved ones are struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are non-judgey people who will understand and support you through this.
There are counsellors you can text or call, any time day or night on 1737. There's amazing services like Tutaki Youth Inc, Thrive, Supporting Families, Pathways, The Rural Support Trust, The Women's Centre, The Stratford Mental Wellness Peer Support Group, and Progress to Health who will help you find your bearings, a space available to be booked at Taranaki Retreat.
I guess that's the point. Finding our way, together, to a floor called Hope, and, together, bringing about the change we can't wait to see.
Jamie Allen started up the Taranaki Retreat with his wife Suzy and officially opened it as a charitable trust last year. Last month the couple were awarded a New Plymouth District Council's Citizens' Award. For more information about the retreat go to www.taranakiretreat.org.nz
WHERE TO GET HELP:
Lifeline: ph 0800 543 354 (available 24/7).
Suicide Crisis Helpline: ph 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7).
Youth services: ph 06 3555 906.
Youthline: ph 0800 376 633.
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7).
Whatsup: ph 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm).
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7).
Rainbow Youth: ph 09 376 4155.
Tutaki Youth Inc: 06 928 4517
Supporting Families in Mental Illness: 0800 732 825
The Rural Support Trust: 0800 787 254
The Women's Centre: 06 758 4957
Progress to Health Taranaki: 06 757 5549
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, phone 111.