Not one but two hurricanes of record size and destruction, wildfires out of control in the west, earthquakes in Mexico, floods in south Asia and India, and North Korea is testing nukes. And if that isn’t close enough to home, we have a massive opioid epidemic, killing not only users but the law enforcement and first responders who try to help. We have a 40-year increase in the number of suicides world-wide; the majority being in young people making it the third leading cause of deaths in those 15-24.
What is going on????!!!! Is our world worse than ever, is this just a ‘blip’ in our history, is this ‘the end’ as some have implied?
There are plenty who think they have the answers. The debate over climate change continues to explain or denounce the weather events. The North Korea incident is being compared to the Bay of Pigs and we ‘made it through that’. Opioids are the “LSD or heroin of the 60’s”, ‘we’re just in a down cycle right now’ Social media is to blame for the rise in youth suicides.
None of these are answers to the questions. Opinions and speculation abound on ‘fake news’ or real news, the POTUS is on Twitter, and still the question of Why? goes unanswered. I have often said to grieving or traumatized people: there is no answer to WHY. Why did this happen? Why is my loved one gone? Why did they leave us? Why did this happen to me or to my family, my community? More than ever these questions are left unanswered when suicide takes a life.
As the school year kicked off, I received several calls from school counselors, principals and teachers around the state and very close to my rural, small-town home. What can we do to help the family left behind? How can we prevent more of this from happening? What do we tell the students? These questions also require a lot of thought and reflection; sometimes the questions get bigger the more we think about them. When people are trying to understand suicide, when people are scared for those they care about, and wondering if it could happen to their family, their community,the first thought that jumps to my mind is to help – to reach out – to give a helping hand. Literally. Try this yourself right now:
*My Helping Hand.
Keep an open mind and heart for five minutes or less. Put your hand out in front of you, palm facing out, fingers and thumbs spread.
- Starting with your little finger, name one person in your life who loves you, who would do whatever it takes to help you. Once you’ve got that, fold your finger into the palm of your hand.
- Now name someone for your ring finger. It should be someone who supports you and cares about what happens to you. Fold that finger into your palm.
- Keep going with your next two fingers. Name a teacher at school, a coach, your neighbor—whoever comes to mind. You don’t have to be super close to this person, just name someone who you think is or would be a helper to you or anyone who needed it.
- Your thumb represents you. You are a person with the strength and the sense to help yourself; to take care of yourself; and to notice when you need love, help, and support. Tuck “you,” your thumb, under the other four fingers of love, help, and support. This fist you’ve made is your strength and support.
- Take your hand and place it on your heart. Take a deep breath and think about and hold on to the “helping hand” you just created for yourself. Know that these people will always be there to help you; they’re right there at the end of your arm, carried with you and in your heart all the time.
We all need a Helping Hand these days; we need to know that we have love and support no matter what happens. That floods recede, fires burn out, problems, fights, disagreements, even big ones, are temporary. As long as we do not feel alone, we, together, will get through even the worst of what the world and life has for us.
Don’t hide from these difficult conversations; we won’t have all the answers or solutions but we can always offer to be on someone else’s Helping Hand. We know that we have people who will help. You know what Mr. Rogers said after any and all of these tragedies: Look to the helpers. You now know (and can teach others) there is a Helping Hand and it’s right there, with you, even if you think you are all alone and scared.
*Excerpted from Grief Recovery for Teens: Letting Go of Painful Emotions with Body-based Practices by Coral Popowitz New Harbinger Publications (2017)