GRIEF from the perspective of a Jonestown Survivor

This week, a beloved friend of mine got word that her closest friend, since high school, had committed suicide. Some mutual friends told her to speak with me since I certainly knew about grief and losing loved ones, from my survival after the deaths in Jonestown. When she first spoke to me, I was speechless. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t want to go to that deep place, or if I knew of her dark days ahead, or if I knew that words and platitudes would not make any difference. She was the one who had to talk it out. But then, as I attempted to sleep last night, I thought it all over and had some insights about it. I think that those struck with grief can be helped just as we help friends with epilepsy that have a seizure. We secure the area and clear out sharp or dangerous items, and we give a person space, and emotional support, until the episode is over. I think my grief was treated tenderly this way. There isn’t really anything to say, or for others to do. I had to have the space and the love to get through it. I think the most helpful responses are to be an active listener and to be available. I spent time with her today to try to do that because I wasn’t happy with my response yesterday. I was caught by surprise so just clammed up.
I remember well my disbelief, at first. Then I was so very sorry. And then, I was angry. Above all else, I was consumed by my feelings. I still have those feelings, but they don’t control my life and my emotional well-being. But of course, since I consider that we Peoples Temple survivors all have our own style of PTSD (but in our case Peoples Temple Stress Disorder), I can tap into it or it comes to the surface as I go about my life. Grief is awful, and comes without invitation. It makes you blame yourself for joy. You have to talk yourself down from that. No one wants people who are fortunate to be alive to spend it in regret. We just have to forgive ourselves and others, and at the same time – never forget it; never make those same mistakes again.

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