A loved one’s suicide can be emotionally devastating. Use healthy coping strategies – such as seeking support – to begin the journey to healing and acceptance.

Suicide grief, emotions can overwhelm you. Your grief might be heart wrenching. At the same time, you might be consumed by guilt – wondering if you could have done something to prevent your loved one’s death.

As you face life after a loved one’s suicide, remember that you don’t have to go through it alone.

Brace for powerful emotions

A loved one’s suicide can trigger intense emotions. For example:

  • Shock. Disbelief and emotional numbness might set in. You might think that your loved one’s suicide couldn’t possibly be real.
  • Anger. You might be angry with your loved one for abandoning you or leaving you with a legacy of grief – or angry with yourself or others for missing clues about suicidal intentions.
  • Guilt. You might replay “what if” and “if only” scenarios in your mind, blaming yourself for your loved one’s death.
  • Despair. You might be gripped by sadness, loneliness or helplessness. You might have a physical collapse or even consider suicide yourself.
  • Confusion. Many people try to make some sense out of the death, or try to understand why their loved one took his or her life. But, you’ll likely always have some unanswered questions.
  • Feelings of rejection. You might wonder why your relationship wasn’t enough to keep your loved one from dying by suicide.

You might continue to experience intense reactions during the weeks and months after your loved one’s suicide – including nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty concentrating, social withdrawal and loss of interest in usual activities – especially if you witnessed or discovered the suicide.

Dealing with stigma

Many people have trouble discussing suicide, and might not reach out to you. This could leave you feeling isolated or abandoned if the support you expected to receive just isn’t there.

Additionally, some religions limit the rituals available to people who’ve died by suicide, which could also leave you feeling alone. You might also feel deprived of some of the usual tools you depended on in the past to help you cope.

Adopt healthy coping strategies

The aftermath of a loved one’s suicide can be physically and emotionally exhausting. As you work through your grief, be careful to protect your own well-being.

  • Keep in touch. Reach out to loved ones, friends and spiritual leaders for comfort, understanding and healing. Surround yourself with people who are willing to listen when you need to talk, as well as those who’ll simply offer a shoulder to lean on when you’d rather be silent.
  • Grieve in your own way. Do what’s right for you, not necessarily someone else. There is no single “right” way to grieve. If you find it too painful to visit your loved one’s grave-site or share the details of your loved one’s death, wait until you’re ready.
  • Be prepared for painful reminders. Anniversaries, holidays and other special occasions can be painful reminders of your loved one’s suicide. Don’t chide yourself for being sad or mournful. Instead, consider changing or suspending family traditions that are too painful to continue.
  • Don’t rush yourself. Losing someone to suicide is a tremendous blow, and healing must occur at its own pace. Don’t be hurried by anyone else’s expectations that it’s been “long enough.”
  • Expect setbacks. Some days will be better than others, even years after the suicide – and that’s OK. Healing doesn’t often happen in a straight line.
  • Consider a support group for families affected by suicide. Sharing your story with others who are experiencing the same type of grief might help you find a sense of purpose or strength. However, if you find going to these groups keeps you ruminating on your loved one’s death, seek out other methods of support.

Know when to seek professional help

If you experience intense or unrelenting anguish or physical problems, ask your doctor or mental health provider for help. Seeking professional help is especially important if you think you might be depressed or you have recurring thoughts of suicide. Unresolved grief can turn into complicated grief, where painful emotions are so long lasting and severe that you have trouble resuming your own life.

Depending on the circumstances, you might benefit from individual or family therapy – either to get you through the worst of the crisis or to help you adjust to life after suicide. Short-term medication can be helpful in some cases, too.

Face the future with a sense of peace

In the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide, you might feel like you can’t go on or that you’ll never enjoy life again.

In truth, you might always wonder why it happened – and reminders might trigger painful feelings even years later. Eventually, however, the raw intensity of your grief will fade.

Coming to terms with the death of a loved one is one of life’s most challenging journeys.

When the death is from suicide, family members and friends can experience an even more complex kind of grief. While trying to cope with the pain of their sudden loss, they are overwhelmed by feelings of blame, anger and incomprehension. Adding to their burden is the stigma that still surrounds suicide.

Survivors of suicide and their friends can help each other and themselves by gaining an understanding of grief after suicide. For survivors, it helps to know that the intensity of their feelings is normal. Friends can learn how to support the bereaved.

A Different Grief

Survivors of suicide – the family and friends of a person who completes suicide – feel the emotions that death always brings. Adding to their suffering is the shock of a sudden, often unexpected death. As well, they may feel isolated and judged by society, friends and colleagues.

Some people compare the emotional stress to being trapped on an endless roller coaster. Survivors may feel:

  • guilt, anger, blame, shame, confusion, relief, despair, betrayal and abandonment
  • disconnected from their loved one because he or she chose to die
  • consumed by a need to find the meaning and reasons for the suicide
  • an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the death
  • the suicide was malicious, or a way for the deceased to get back at them

Stigma Affects Mourning

Suicide is a difficult topic for many people. Cultural and religious taboos can lead to judgmental or condemning attitudes. Some people prefer to avoid even discussing suicide and their lack of knowledge about it makes them fearful. Attitudes like these can isolate and further stress survivors. Stigma leads survivors to feel abandoned by their social network. They describe:

  • being avoided by friends or acquaintances
  • feeling judged
  • people behaving as if the death had not occurred

Some survivors perceive stigma that is not really there. They may anticipate difficult questions and disapproval and withdraw in order to protect themselves. Whether it is real or perceived, stigma can affect a survivor’s journey to acceptance.

What Survivors Should Know

First, know that you are not alone. Approximately 1 out of 4 people know someone who died by suicide. It can also help to know that:

  • suicide was the decision of the person who died
  • it is estimated that the majority of suicides are the result of untreated depression or other mental illness

Survivors Are At Risk

Survivors of suicide are at high risk of committing suicide themselves. The experience suddenly makes the idea of suicide very real, and it is not uncommon for survivors to experience suicidal thoughts. Another factor is that suicide-related illnesses like depression run in families.

Because of this increased risk for suicide, survivors should not be isolated, but rather supported and encouraged to talk about all their feelings – even the most difficult ones.

Surviving Coping Strategies

No two people ever experience grief in the same way, or with the same intensity, but there are strategies that can help you cope with your loss.

  • Acknowledge that the death is a suicide.
  • Recognize your feelings and loss.
  • Talk openly with your family so that everyone’s grief is acknowledged and can be expressed.
  • Reach out to your friends and guide them if they don’t know what to say or do.
  • Find support groups where you can share your stories, memories and methods of coping.
  • Be aware that anniversaries or birthdays can be especially difficult and consider whether to continue old traditions or begin new ones.
  • Develop rituals to honour your loved one’s life.

How Can I Help My Friend

Showing a willingness to listen is probably the most important thing you can do for a friend who is a survivor of suicide. It may be distressing at first, but you’re not expected to provide answers. Instead, you can be a comforting, safe place for someone who desperately needs to talk. What you can do:

  • Listen with non-judgmental compassion.
  • Understand that your friend will need time to deal with their loss.
  • Avoid clichés.
  • Talk about the person who has died.
  • Offer practical assistance such as shopping, cooking and driving.
  • Find and offer information on resources, support groups, etc.
  • Be aware of difficult times, like anniversary.

Understanding the complicated legacy of suicide and how to cope with palpable grief can help you heal, while still honoring the memory of your loved one.

Ref:. cmhadurham.ca, www.mayoclinic.org