Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Grieving one gone too young July 31, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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Valley Grove cemetery - Copy


I’D NEVER MET THE PARENTS, only knew their son from company gatherings.

But on a recent Thursday evening, I waited in line at a funeral home to pay my respects to the 25-year-old, my husband’s former co-worker, who took his own life.

As Randy and I snail paced through the winding line of mourners, past countless photo displays, I observed. Never have I attended a visitation with such quietness. Barely a sound in this carpeted room where mostly young men stood, their eyes focused on images sliding across a screen. Their friend, once so vibrant and alive, now gone, his closed casket on the other side of the room.

It made me incredibly sad to witness this. This grief tucked inside these young men who should not be here but rather tooling around in their pick-ups on a perfect Minnesota summer evening. Never have I seen so many trucks parked, and young adults gathered, outside a funeral home.

It made me incredibly sad to witness this.

I watched as a twenty-something slipped his arm around his significant other when they paused at the casket. Her grief ran deep and I expect so did his.

Grief rose inside me, too, and threatened to spill into tears for a young man I barely knew. But he is around the age of my own children and, as a mother, I cannot imagine such a loss. This is not the natural order of life, to lose a child.

I wondered, as we edged toward the family, past the displays of caps and replica cars and framed certifications, what I would say. How do you comfort?

At times like this, words seem futile. I wanted, in some small way also, to console the 12-year-old brother who occasionally turned and sheltered himself into his towering father’s side. He appeared invisible to other mourners. But I noticed him and his pain.

When we reached the brother, I asked his name. And he spoke with such softness that the father had to repeat his name. And then I asked to hug the 12-year-old and he allowed me to do so. Twice. And I told him he was loved.

And then the story spilled out—how he had given his older brother his nickname because he could not, as a young child, pronounce his sibling’s name. And for a moment a smile flitted across the pre-teen’s face and the father and I laughed. And I told the 12-year-old that he will always have that special connection to his brother.

Sometimes grieving families need moments like this and only sparse words of sincere sympathy. I offered such words and hugs and held hands, too, and felt the clench of grief.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


37 Responses to “Grieving one gone too young”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    Very sad to be that young, to lose all hope (or whatever the case may be) and leave so many and so much behind. Suicide is a unfortunate end. I wish it didn’t exist. If it didn’t, I would still have a brother and my wife would have a sister. It truly terrible.

    • Words elude me except to say that I am so sorry for the loss of your brother and Cyndie’s sister. I read the pain in your words, my friend, and offer my prayers for you and your families.

      • Dan Traun Says:

        Much time has passed in both cases, but you never forget. The “why” hangs there for several years until you resolve that you will never know; not that knowing would change the reality. It is very different from other deaths.

      • And maybe that is part of the reason this particular visitation felt so “different” and unsettling to me.

        It is good not to forget and good to resolve the fact that you will never truly know.

  2. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    I read somewhere after my Sister’s funeral that siblings especially adult siblings feel invisible and alone in their grief when their sibling passes on. Most people concentrate on the parents and family of the sibling who has passed. I am sure that child will remember your kindness in that moment for the rest of his life.

    • This begs the question: Did you/do you feel alone in your grief as an adult sibling?

      I hope, in some small way, that I helped that 12-year-old brother in his grief.

      • Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

        Yes I did and still do. My Parent’s are constantly telling me that so and so called or stopped by or that so and so gave them a little memento. I always stand there biting my tongue thinking what about me. I have had 2 people call me and ask me how I am doing in 11 months. Where did my family & friends go? So yes, very much so!

      • Oh, Missy, we can all learn from you. Tell me, if you feel like sharing, what would help, what you would like others to do/say? What hurts you most?

        Sometimes I think people shy away from grieving family members because they think mentioning the loved one will cause more pain, when in reality it doesn’t.

      • Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

        In all honesty I would like to have someone contact me. I don’t want to have to ask for it. I don’t want to guilt someone into asking me how I am doing. I want them to care enough to ask on their own. I understand that people don’t know what to say but sometimes asking “how are you” could be the difference in between somebody knowing whether or not you care about them.

      • Thank you, Missy. Everything you write makes total sense. In your grief, you should not have to seek out people to console you. I like your suggestion of folks simply asking, “How are you?”

        Dear Readers, please take note of what Missy is sharing. She lost her 24-year-old sister 11 months ago in a traffic accident. We can all learn from what Missy is experiencing.

        Again, my most heartfelt thanks to you, dear Missy, for opening up your heart.

      • Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

        You’re welcome.

    • Thanks for sharing Missy 🙂 I will keep this in mind going forward.

  3. Very sad and so young. Beautiful post. I lost two cousins young – one took his life and the other was murdered (case still unsolved). It is hard to wrap my head around it at times and still does even as an adult. Sending thoughts and prayers to this family. Take Care 🙂

  4. cecilia Says:

    suicide is terrible, it leaves behind more pain that can ever be imagined, lovely that you could be there to give the child a hug, he is at terrible risk now.

    • I witnessed some of that pain during the young man’s visitation. I feel the same as you about the brother; he’s at such a vulnerable age. I felt I had to say something to help ease his grief and to show my care.

  5. Jackie Says:

    I’m not sure there can be anything more sad and horrible than suicide…cant imagine the grief for this family. How sweet of you to acknowledge this young brother…he must feel so lost.

  6. Thread crazy Says:

    What a kind gesture on your part Audrey; I’m sure that young boy will forever remember your hug and kind words. The roles were a bit reversed in my life; my grandfather decided to end it. Both my brother and I were very young, leaving us to try to understand why. He was someone we looked up to and loved. Suicide only leaves emptiness and heartache for those left behind. Good post.

    • I am so sorry for the tragic loss of your grandfather and can only imagine how his death impacted you and your brother. The comments on this post are revealing that too many have experienced the grief in the aftermath of a suicide.

  7. Bless you for reaching out to the 12 year old. Our nephew recently took his own life, so it is good to be reminded (in the comments) not to overlook of the grief of the siblings.

  8. hotlyspiced Says:

    I’m glad you were able to bring some comfort to this family who clearly needed it badly. To lose a son and a brother is one thing but to lose them through suicide just deepens the blow. What a tragic and sad day for this family and I do hope they’re able to move on with their lives. I’m sure that 12 year old is going to need some counselling xx

  9. Marilyn Says:

    Thank you for this post. The finality of suicide opens our eyes in a small degree to the depths of pain, confusion, and hurt that some around us are dealing with perhaps on a daily basis. Every time I hear the word ‘suicide’ it jerks my mind back to the day 20 years ago that my brother took his life and the horrible aftermath of trying to deal with my his last battle. It is good to talk about it. In a former age the reaction to suicide was to sweep under the carpet the pain and darkness in a vain attempt to make it go away. Four other family members have had thoughts of suicide. But none have followed through because we have and continue to talk about the on-going results especially in his children’s lives.

    • I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. It sounds like your family has been loving and caring and watchful.

      It is good to talk about this topic and I am grateful for the conversation on this post today. I’ve learned a lot and my heart aches for all who have suffered.

  10. lensgirl53 Says:

    As the mother of a son who died by suicide, I was completely devastated beyond repair and not able to cope with the shock and horror of my new reality. There was no way I could reach out to help anyone else in those days of total confusion and pain. I had to rely on the kindness of others. I know the parents appreciated someone reaching out to the brother when they probably could not be all they needed to be in the midst of their tragedy.

    • Please accept my heartfelt sympathy at the loss of your dear son. Your description of your devastation is something that needs to be heard by those of us who can support parents like yourself who have experienced such deep grief and loss. I appreciate that you took the time to share your thoughts.

  11. rachaelhanel Says:

    Good for you for reaching out to the 12-year-old. That is such a fragile age anyway, and this tragedy has the power to shape his life. If he knows that people care and want to talk to him, I think that will help his healing process.

  12. beautifully written…

  13. CA Powers Says:

    Dear Audrey,
    Thank you for this post. Yesterday was the 7th anniversary of my sister Kathleen’s suicide. She hung herself in the middle of the night in her Jersey City apartment. We were notified the next morning that she left a note for the lower level tenants to “call the police” and to “not come upstairs.” She was 34 years old, finishing her PhD at Rutgers University and ostensibly had many things going for her. As time revealed the event was methodically planned. She had finished grading papers and mailed them. Paid a couple of bills. Left the apartment tidy with thorough instruction about the care of her cats.

    There was a note tossed in the garbage can; a treatise of sorts about injustice in the world, her disdain for ego-driven academicians, biased ignorance and musing about suffering we endured as children. But there wasn’t a specific reason in the note.

    It sent a tidal wave of shock, anger and cognitive dissonance in our family. We have splintered since Kathleen left. Suicide is still taboo in our society. People don’t like to discuss it. So that is why when someone is brave enough to write about it, as you have, I am thankful. Less lonely and brings the soul sickness into the light.

    • Thank you for sharing this deeply personal loss in your life. My heart goes out to you and your family. The pain is so real and deep in the words you write, even after all of these years.

      You have given me some insights and things to think about. Thank you for that gift. Healing comes in many ways, if there ever truly can be full healing. Talking and listening and learning are all integral. I pray that some day your family can reconnect.

      I saw an opportunity to write about this topic and, if my words are of value to one person, one family, then I am grateful.

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