After A Suicide Loss
If you have lost someone to suicide, the feelings can be overwhelming and can seem unmanageable. For survivors of suicide loss, there is no one way to best handle the tragedy of suicide, but there are tools available that can help you cope with your grief.
If you have recently suffered a loss of a loved one due to suicide, know that it is all right to grieve. Find out where you can turn for help. Learn about the grieving process and how it can be different when the loss is due to suicide.
What kinds of emotions am I likely to feel in the days and weeks after a suicide loss?
Everyone experiences a suicide loss in their own way, so there is no list of emotions that will exactly fit your experience. However, many people who have lived through the suicide of a loved one experience some combination of the following feelings and grief responses:
- Denial and disbelief
- Rejection and abandonment
- Blame and self-recrimination
- Shame and embarrassment
- Depression and sadness
- Suicidal feelings
- Yearning for the person
People Grieve Differently
Know that you can survive. Though you may feel you cannot survive, you can.
The intense feelings of grief can be overwhelming and frightening. This is normal. You are not going crazy; you are grieving.
You may experience feelings of guilt, confusion, and anger, even fear. These are all common responses to grief.
You may even have thoughts of suicide. This, too, is common. It does not mean you will act on those thoughts.
Forgetfulness is a common, but temporary side effect. Grieving takes so much energy that other things will fade in importance.
Grief also affects us physically. You may find that you are more accident-prone, that you get sick more easily, you feel fatigued and have more pain.
Keep asking “why” until you no longer need to ask.
Healing takes time. Allow yourself the time you need to grieve.
Grief has no predictable pattern or timetable. Though there are elements of commonality in grief, each person and each situation is unique.
If you can delay making major decisions, do so.
The path of grief is one of twists and turns and you may often feel you are getting nowhere. Remember that even setbacks are a kind of progress.
Expect setbacks and occasional painful reminders. Some days are better than others and if you go about life with this mentality, you will be better prepared through the grieving process.
This is the hardest thing you will ever do. Be patient with yourself.
Seek out people who are willing to listen when you need to talk and who understand you may need to be silent.
Give yourself permission to seek professional help.
Avoid people who try to tell you what to feel and how to feel it and, in particular, those who think you should “be over it by now.”
Find a support group for survivors that provide a safe place for you to express your feelings or simply a place to go to be with other survivors who are experiencing some of the same things you are going through.
What do I tell people about what happened?
You may be hesitant to share with others that your loved one took their own life. While we cannot determine what is right for you, please note that in the long run, most survivors are glad that they decided to be honest about the facts of the death. One of the most important reasons to be honest about the way your loved one died is that it will give your friends and family the opportunity to support you in an appropriate way.
What do I need to know about planning the funeral?
If you have any concerns that the funeral home where you would like to hold your loved one’s funeral might not be comfortable handling a suicide death, ask up front (or have a family member or friend ask for you).
If the funeral is to include a member of the clergy, talk to them in advance to explore their understanding of suicide and consider educating or avoiding those who hold views about suicide being sinful. Research shows that suicide relates to a combination of health and psychosocial (life) factors, and there are many clergy who will be both sympathetic and supportive of you and your family, so there’s no reason to settle for someone who is not.
If you’d like to memorialize your loved one with charitable donations, provide an “in lieu of flowers” statement in the obituary or at the funeral home that informs people where they can send monetary donations in your loved one’s name. For information on how to memorialize someone by supporting the work of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, visit AFSP’s Memorial Fund page.
How do I handle the media if the suicide has caught the public’s attention?
You are under no obligation to talk to the media about your loved one’s death, but if you choose to do so, it can be helpful to designate someone as the family’s spokesperson and for that person to have prepared remarks. You can also choose to give exclusive rights to the story to just one reporter. This way, if other reporters contact you or show up at your door, you can refer them to the reporter you’ve already entrusted with your story.
In my loved one’s obituary, do I have to say the death was a suicide?
Do what feels comfortable to you. However, by including the cause of death you will avoid repeated questions and rumors about how your loved one died later on, and you will again give people the opportunity to support you in a way that is appropriate.
What can I expect if I witnessed the suicide or if I found the body?
If you witnessed the suicide of your loved one or found the body, you are likely to experience trauma symptoms in addition to grief over the loss of your loved one. Images of your loved one at the time of death may be burned into your memory, making it difficult to concentrate on other things. You may experience anxiety and confusion as well as physical symptoms such as chest pain, stomach or digestive problems, breathing problems, or difficulty sleeping. It is also important to know that, even when you have not been an eyewitness to the death, you may develop trauma symptoms.
These emotional and physical reactions are normal responses to trauma and, even though it may not feel like it now, they will likely diminish in the weeks and months to come. If they do not, it is best to seek the help of a mental health professional who has experience working with people who have had traumatic experiences or losses.
What do I tell my children?
If you are the parent or guardian of minor children, it is up to you to determine whether to tell your children the truth about what happened. Please do bear in mind that people talk, and while you may not (yet) wish to share the nature of your loved one’s death with your children, it’s very possible that they will overhear adults discussing or speculating about the nature of the death.
What can I do to take care of myself so I can get through this?
It is imperative that you take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
No matter how you choose to deal with your grief, you should not have to cope with your loss alone; be open to letting people help you live through this experience.
It may seem as if life will never feel normal again, as if you will not survive this, but you will. Be kind and patient with yourself, and find support—by going to a support group, by seeing a therapist or counselor, or by attending an International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day event.
Consider learning about suicide and suicide loss in order to help you frame the loss of your loved one as well as the grief experience. Take optimal care of yourself and your family members.
When explaining the suicide to a child or adolescent, provide truthful information, encourage questions, and offer loving reassurance.
- Reassure children that they are not responsible, and that nothing they said or did caused anyone else to take their life.
- Be prepared to talk about the suicide multiple times during the first days and weeks, and later throughout the child’s life.
- Consider a children’s bereavement support group for your child if they are having difficulty adjusting.