Healing from Suicide Grief
Whenever someone dies by suicide, it’s a heartbreaking experience for their family, partner or spouse, and friends. We recently heard from someone whose friend died by suicide:
"This is hard to write and hard to talk about. But one of my close friends killed themselves, and I just don't know how to move on, move forward, or have a normal life after something like this. It's been about six months, but there are still times when I find myself overwhelmed with sadness that she's gone, or fear that someone else in my life is suicidal, and I'm doing nothing to help them. Is there anything I can do to feel better? Will my life ever be the same again?"
It is so painful to get messages like this. And I know if your friend killed themselves, your own pain feels crushing. You're probably wondering: is there really a way to have a normal life after something so traumatic? The short answer is yes: people whose loved ones and friends have died by suicide can still find happiness and joy, and can still have meaningful relationships in life. But the larger truth is, suicide grief is not an easy path. Here are some things to remember when thinking about moving on after a loved one dies by suicide.
Remember: Grief Isn't a Straight Line
Grieving loss, whether by suicide or other cause, is not a straight line. There's not a beginning, middle, and end when it comes to grief. After all, grief is tied to love. The painful, strong emotions you feel without your friend, partner, or family member here are in your heart because of how much you loved and cared for that person. Yet it's natural to not want to be overwhelmed by intense emotions all the time.
But you don't have to pressure yourself to move on, move forward, get better, or feel differently within a certain amount of time. Remind yourself that some days will be harder than others, and there will come a time that your loved one's suicide doesn't dominate your thoughts. Both are okay, and neither means you are grieving them in the wrong way.
When grief over the loss of your friend seems to come out of nowhere, remember that this is normal. Give yourself as much space, time, and patience as you can to experience your feelings and remember how much you loved the person you lost to suicide.
Yes, things will change as you change and as your life changes. But do your best not to pressure yourself or rush that process. There's no one right way to grieve. Whatever you're feeling, it's happening as a part of your healing process.
Expect a Range of Emotions
When your loved one died by suicide, you likely felt incredibly sad. But you'll feel a wide range of emotions as you continue to grieve. The Mayo Clinic lists these as some of the most common emotions people experience when grieving a suicide-related loss:
- Disbelief: Suicide is shocking, and that shock can be numbing. You might find yourself thinking, "this can't be real", even though the loss of a loved one is all too real. It's okay to feel both of those feelings at the same time.
- Anger: Being angry with your loved one who died by suicide is natural. If you've thought, "how dare they leave me to pick up the pieces!" or "I can't believe they'd be so selfish!", anger is part of your suicide grief.
- Despair: Death by suicide is isolating. Deep sadness might grip you, and you might feel overwhelmed by loneliness, or trapped in a feeling of helplessness. If you recognize feelings of despair, do your best to remind yourself that these feelings will pass.
- Guilt and Shame: Wondering why you weren't able to help more is a normal feeling. But remember, someone else's death by suicide is never your fault.
Of course, there are many more things you could feel. You might feel a sense of relief or lightness when you don't expect to, or at a time that seems inappropriate. You might feel confused as to why suicide happens, especially if you didn't know the person you lost was struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.
In really painful times, I hope it helps to think about feelings as temporary signals your mind, body, and spirit are giving you that you need help, healing, or support.
Feelings are valuable and valid, but they won't overtake us forever. Feelings change with time. And while fear might be a feeling we have about the pain of a friend's suicide, feelings themselves are nothing to be afraid of. Ask yourself this when you're hit with a strong emotion while grieving: what is this feeling telling me about what I want or need from myself and others?
Give Yourself Permission to Enjoy Things
Sometimes it can feel strange, or even wrong, to do things that bring us joy, to have a good time, or to laugh at something ridiculous with a friend.
But all of these things can still happen while you're grieving, and may happen at unexpected times when you're grieving a friend's death by suicide. As best you can, allow yourself to continue to enjoy things, and to celebrate the simple things in life that make you happy. This may help to ease some of the more intense grieving with time.
Some people find it helpful to start small: listening to a song they like, watching an upbeat movie, or taking a walk outside. Whatever you are able to do to find joy and happiness in a dark time, no effort is too small. You are worthy of love, and caring for yourself, even in simple ways, is important.
Don't Be Afraid to Talk About It
Have you noticed that talking about suicide, suicidal thoughts, and losing someone to suicide seems taboo? I've noticed that, even though there are many suicide prevention resources, and many support groups for survivors of suicide, there is still a stigma. Many people make negative assumptions about people who die by suicide and the people they left behind after that loss.
But it's important to speak to people you trust with courage about your experience, your feelings, and your healing journey. Someone else in your life may be struggling, and knowing you are a person they can talk to could make a world of difference.
At first, it may seem like you aren't sure who to talk to. When I don't know where to turn first with my struggles, I pour my heart out to God. God loves you unconditionally, and you can give your toughest struggles and your messiest emotions to him in prayer. Whether it's praying out loud, writing it down in a journal, or meditating in silence, God is here for you and ready to listen.
It's important to know when things become too much, especially after you feel like you've tried everything. If you are starting to feel overwhelmed by grief over a loved one's death by suicide, you have somewhere to turn right now. Talk to a HopeCoach about the loved one you lost, about your grief journey, and about how you hope to heal. We are here for you, and you don't have to face this difficult time alone.
I’d like to share this prayer video that I created to help you as you are grieving the loss of your friend. You can watch it here. You are not alone. "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" Psalm 34:18
We also have a partner, GriefShare, who is a caring support group of people who will walk alongside you through one of life’s most difficult experiences.
If you or a friend need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, for free confidential, 24/7 help. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world. For additional help, please visit the suicide prevention resource page.