The Critical Importance of Seeking Support
Learning from the Geese, with permission by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., C.T.
If there is ever a time in life when we need others to support and nurture us, it’s when someone we love dies through suicide. In many ways, “grief work” is the most difficult work we will ever do. And hard work is less burdensome when others lend a hand.
Sharing the devastation that results from the suicide of someone precious won’t make the hurt go away, but it does make it more bearable. In reflecting on this need to support each other following a suicide, we might be well served to observe the five natural instincts for support and companionship demonstrated by wild geese during migration.
Observation One: When the flock is on a journey, the flapping of the wings of each individual goose results in an uplift for the bird that follows. By flying in a “V” formation, the entire flock achieves 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
Implication: When we are grieving the suicide death of someone loved, we too are on a journey. Others who are grieving are on a similar journey, and we can all be uplifted by journeying together. No, you need not travel alone, nor should you try!
Observation Two: Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it experiences the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone. The goose then realizes it needs to get back into formation to take advantage of the collective lifting power of the flock.
Implication: Just as geese are well served to stay in formation with those on a similar journey, we as humans are better off if we accept the lifting power of those who go before us. We are grace-filled when we open ourselves to the support of our fellow travelers on the suicide grief journey.
Observation Three: If any one goose has a problem, two other geese will always drop out of formation and follow the wayward goose to help support and protect it. They stay present to the goose that has special needs until it is able to continue the journey on its own.
Implication: If we humans can learn from the wisdom of geese; we will always companion each other in difficult times. Receiving help from others strengthens the bonds of compassion and love that help us survive when we are devastated by suicide loss.
Observation Four: When the goose leading the flock gets tired and overwhelmed, it rotates back into the formation, and another goose flies at the point position.
Implication: No one person on a suicide grief journey can lead the way all the time. At times, it is wise to acknowledge that you are tired and need others to care for you and protect you from the headwinds.
Observation Five: While flying in formation, the geese honk to each other as a form of encouragement and mutual support.
Implication: There are times in life when we all need encouragement from those around us to remind us of our interconnectedness. We must allow ourselves to rely on each other, otherwise, we end up feeling totally alone and completed isolated as we experience the grief of a suicide in our lives.
Where to Turn for Help
“There is strength in numbers,” one saying goes. Another echoes, “United we stand, divided we fall.” This is a time in your life when you need to let other people in. You needn’t let everyone in all the time, but I encourage you to make room for those you trust the most. Carefully chosen friends and family members with whom you feel safe can often be at the center of your support system.
Seek out people who encourage you to be yourself and who acknowledge your many thoughts and feelings. Open your broken heart a little at a time to those people in your life who are compassionate and loving listeners. In an ideal world, this is your family and friends. If this is not true for you, my hope is that you will seek out other sources of support.
Perhaps it is helpful to remember that, by definition, mourning means “the shared response to loss.” Help comes in different forms for different people. Find the sources of support that work best for you and then make use of them.