Losing a loved one to suicide often leaves the survivors with many difficult feelings that can be difficult to accept or overcome. These feelings can include:
- shock that your loved one would do this or that you didn’t see this coming.
- anger at them for leaving you
- anger at them for not coming to you for help
- anger at others who you blame for the death of your loved one.
- denial that they are really gone.
- shame at what people will think or say.
- guilt that you couldn’t help them, missed something or even caused their suicide.
- confused or worried about how your life will change without your loved one.
Survivors of suicide also struggle with the question of “Why?” While there is no definite answer to this question, we do know that the majority of individuals who attempt or die by suicide are suffering from some type of mental illness, mainly depression. Those who contemplate suicide are experiencing a pain so great that they cannot see any other way out of their situation and are desperate to stop the pain. All they see is darkness and suicide is the only solution to end their pain. This pain is usually caused by a combination of events. However, we oftentimes identify one major event as being the reason for the suicide, when that event was simply the one that pushed them over the edge. If we knew their reason(s) for suicide, in other words, the answer to “Why?”, it likely would make very little sense to us because our perception is logical, while the person considering suicide usually is not thinking in a rational way. As the healing process continues, survivors typically come to their own understanding of an answer to this question. The best case scenario would be to accept the fact that we may never truly know the complete reason(s) for the suicide.
Beginning the healing process following a loss to suicide can be very difficult or even traumatic for the survivor. There is no timeline for healing; grief following a suicide can be much lengthier than grieving a loss from any other death. With suicide, your loved one “chose” to die. Losing someone to suicide is not something that you will ever “get over.” However, with time, it does become easier to cope with this loss and the good news is that the worst part is already over with. Some things you can do to facilitate the grief process are:
- connect with other survivors through a survivor of suicide support group.
- talk openly and honestly with your family and close friends about your loss and experiences.
- read about suicide loss and grief.
- give yourself time and permission to grieve.
- practice self-care (includes anything that makes you feel rejuvenated, i.e. exercise, playing with pets or children, reading, writing or art, prayer, time with family or friends)
- journal about your grief and experiences or as a way to express thoughts and feelings to and/or about your loved one.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind as you experience your journey through grief:
- You might need to ask for support from family and friends, especially those that have been supportive of you in the past. Many people do not realize that this grief is different from that of “conventional” death and lasts much longer. It’s also possible that they want to be there for you, but do not know how to be supportive. Don’t be afraid to ask for specific things you need.
- People might make insensitive comments or ask how your loved one died. They are probably not intending to be insensitive, but just do not understand suicide and what you are going through. This could also be their way of offering support. Try not to be too hard on them. Also, if you are asked specific questions, be prepared to say, “I don’t care to talk about it” if that is truly how you feel.
- You might feel guilty for the good moments in your life. Eventually, you will start to smile or laugh a little. This can be a very confusing time for survivors, because experiencing joy might make you feel as though your loss is less important. You need to enjoy these moments when you can, because these simple pleasures will help you to get through your worst days. There will be plenty of sad moments to come and you deserve to enjoy every one of your happy times.
- Talk about your loved one and call them by name. This lets other know that you want to talk about your loved one and gives others permission to do the same.