How to Grieve a Parent's Suicide
If you’ve lost a parent to suicide, we are so sorry. Your pain is unimaginable, and though we won’t claim to fully understand what you’re going through, we do want you to know that you’re not alone. We’re here for you and ready to listen without judgment no matter what stage of grief you’re in. You can reach out to a Hope Coach right now, or you can just read this article. We hope it helps you to process what you’re going through
Your Feels Are Valid
Whatever you’re feeling in the wake of your parent’s suicide, it’s perfectly normal. This is such a traumatic event that your emotions have been thrown off balance, and you might move from feeling seven things at once to nothing at all in the span of five minutes. As much as possible, try to give yourself the space to have these feelings. Ignoring or denying them won’t change what’s happened or make the feelings go away. You’ll have to process this eventually, and the sooner you do, the sooner you can start the grieving process.
Feelings that are common among suicide loss survivors are:
Despair. You’ve lost someone close to you. Not only that, but they were in such a bad mental state that they took their own life. Deep sadness is a reasonable reaction to both the loss and the way the loss occurred. Let yourself cry, sob, wail, and lament.
Anger. You might blame someone for this death. Yourself, your parent’s partner, or even your own parent for taking their own life. Maybe you’re even angry with God letting this happen. It’s normal to feel angry when something happens that you don’t understand. Find a healthy way to express your anger, rather than shoving it down. Go for an intense run, write letters in a journal to whomever you’re angry with, or make mashed potatoes… mashing potatoes by hand is a pretty good way to get out anger.
Guilt. You may feel responsible for your parent’s death, and that’s a heavy burden to bear. Acknowledge this feeling, but make sure to remind yourself that you did not physically take your parent’s life. You are not responsible for their death, even if you do wish you’d visited, called, or been kinder to them. At the end of the day, this was their decision and their decision alone. It is NOT your fault.
Shame. You may not want anyone to know what’s happened because of the stigma attached to suicide, or you may think you’re a “bad child” to have “allowed” this to happen. Again, allow yourself to feel the feeling, but remember that your parent’s actions are no reflection on who you are.
Confusion. You may not fully comprehend what’s happened. One minute your parent was a phone call or text message away and the next… how is that even possible? Why would they do such a thing? Do a little reading about suicide. It may help you understand what, why, and how this has happened.
Rejection. You may feel that your parent abandoned you. That they decided you weren’t worth sticking around for. It’s important to remember that your parent’s decision had nothing to do with you and everything to do with their mental state.
Fear. You may worry that your mental health will become like theirs, or that you’re destined to commit suicide someday too. Research may be helpful in this area too. There’s no reason that you can’t go on to live a full, healthy life after this.
Denial. You may not be able to accept what’s happened. Maybe you suspect foul play or you think your parent only ran away. Ask the questions you need to ask, but ultimately, you have to accept this loss before you can begin to move on.
Anxiety. You may be flooded with so many feelings at once that you can’t sit still or sleep. This is completely normal. If it goes on for more than a few days, talk to a professional about getting some help with the symptoms.
Relief. If your parent was suffering or if your relationship with them was rocky, you may be silently glad that it’s finally over. You may feel guilty as soon as you have that feeling of relief, but again, this is normal. You’re not the first child to have a complicated relationship with a parent, and it doesn’t make you a bad person if you’ve felt a bit relieved.
Shock. Maybe you were blindsided. Perhaps you never saw this coming because you never imagined your parent could do this. Breathe. Shock is also normal. Give yourself time.
Loneliness. You miss your parent. Or you feel isolated because nobody could possibly understand what you’re going through. Lean on your other family members right now or find a support group for others who’ve lost loved ones to suicide. There are people out there who understand what you’re going through, and isolation is not a good idea for you at a time like this.
Allow yourself to feel these feelings and any others that may pop up in this troubling time.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
When you experience something traumatic, it’s normal for our mental health to take a turn for the worse. Survivors of a suicide loss commonly experience symptoms of conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, all of which make the grieving process even more difficult. Don’t force yourself to go through this alone. Find a professional counselor or therapist or a support group to help you carry the burden of all these feelings. In the wake of any death, especially one this traumatic, you may be tempted to put on a brave face and “be strong,” especially if you have siblings or other family members who are struggling, but there’s nothing strong about ignoring your own feelings. Remember: your parent’s decline in mental health resulted in their death, so there’s no better time than now to start making yours a top priority.
Begin the Grieving Process
Grief is grief. It follows any loss, and it takes time for anyone to heal from a loss as big as this one. Some of this grief will be immediate: crying a lot, needing to cancel plans to be with family, feeling unable to go to work or school, losing your appetite, sleeping more or less than usual. As time passes and the world around you returns to “normal,” you’ll be faced with carrying your grief with you as you go back to the activities you used to do. Take it slow and lean on your support system. Nobody expects your feelings to go away after a certain amount of time. There’s no deadline for “getting over” the suicide of a parent.
Let yourself have some fun, too. Try doing something you’ll enjoy each and every day, just to keep that emotion in good working condition. Remember that it’s no crime to feel joy, even after a loss like this. Your grief and your joy can coexist, even if your grief is taking up a bit more room in your heart for now. Eventually, maybe months or years from now, you’ll realize that your grief needs less and less room, takes up less and less time. But for now, it’s absolutely okay to be in full grief mode. Remember to reach out to TheHopeLine if you need someone to listen to you or simply sit with you in your grief. We also partner with GriefShare, and they can get you connected to a support group near you. You’re not alone in this.
The traumatic experience of losing a loved one to suicide is very different than losing a loved one another way. Here are 6 emotions survivors of suicide loss face.