What to Expect When Grieving Suicide
If you have lost someone to suicide, I am deeply sorry for your loss. I understand the destructive power of depression and suicidal thoughts, and I feel your pain.
The traumatic experience of losing a loved one to suicide is very different than losing a loved one in any other way. There are feelings and emotions that will be unique to this journey that you are on. And, undoubtedly, this will be something that will stay with you forever.
I am writing this blog to all survivors of suicide loss to simply encourage you that you are not alone.
International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is November 19, 2022. If you are interested in gathering with other suicide loss survivors, you may want to attend an event near you. It is a chance to come together to find connection, understanding and hope through shared experience.
Your Healing Process is Unique to You
You are also not expected to grieve according to any time frame or in any prescribed way. You are not supposed to just “get over it.” In fact, it is important that at some point you accept and understand that your life has been forever changed because of this loss and that you may now always view things through a different lens.
However, I want to encourage you that you will find your way again. I have heard it described this way: You will never be the same again, you will never get over it, but you will have a life again, you will wake up in the morning and feel good. You will start to make plans for the future. At some point, life will feel normal again; not the old normal, the new normal.
6 Common Emotions
So while everyone grieves in their own way, there are some common feelings that are unique to people who have lost someone to suicide. They include:
- A sense of unreality, numbness, nightmares and intrusive thoughts.
- Feelings of guilt and failure that you were not able to prevent it.
- An unrelenting need to ask why, to try and make sense of and understand why it happened.
- Feelings of rejection and abandonment.
- Anger towards the person you lost, as they are also the person who took the life of the person you loved.
- A sense of shame and stigma. Concern that other people will think negatively about you and your family. Sometimes this can result in feeling alone and wanting to withdraw from others.
The Unrelenting Need to Ask Why?
This comment on my blog, Why do people End their Life by Suicide, captures the confusion that many people who have lost someone to suicide face.
My nephew hung himself in April... I just keep asking myself why why why? He didn't even leave a note. Sometimes I feel angry- why did he leave us?! How could he think that no one cared? If he would've called and said he was hurting and needed someone to be there he would have! His death (only age 19) has had such an effect on the whole family... so many tears and heartache. I just keep wondering why and will never know...Snitty
Frustration and Anger
Suicide produces many painful and confusing emotions in survivors, one of which is frustration at being so violently cut off from the victim with no chance to help them, talk with them, or even say goodbye. This frustration can often lead to anger toward yourself or suicide prevention services (for not saving your friend), or toward your friend, even though they were a victim of depression and suicidal thoughts.
Feelings of Guilt and Responsibility
Frustration can also lead to guilt which can be defined as anger turned inward. Can we talk about the enemy of GUILT for a minute?
Jeffrey Jackson wrote A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide. In it he says, “Guilt is your worst enemy, because it is a false accusation. You are not responsible for your loved one’s suicide in any way, shape, or form. Write it down. Say it to yourself over and over again, (even when it feels false). Tattoo it onto your brain. Because it’s the truth. Why do suicide survivors tend to blame themselves? Psychiatrists theorize that human nature subconsciously resists so strongly the idea that we cannot control all the events of our lives that we would rather fault ourselves for a tragic occurrence than accept our inability to prevent it. Simply put, we don’t like admitting to ourselves that we’re only human, so we blame ourselves instead.”
Niki left a comment that shows a depth of understanding of where her brother must have been mentally when he died by suicide.
My brother committed suicide 3 weeks ago today. He was a very private person and couldn't easily open up. My heart breaks because I knew he was stressed. I reached out to him on many occasions, but he wouldn't admit the depth of his despair. Then on the night of Easter Monday he hung himself. I so wish it was different, but he must have been in too much pain for too long. What an immense loss to us his family, his girlfriend, his young children and his friends
How to Support Each Other
I took a call on my radio show from Rachel whose friend had died by suicide. It is really affecting her entire friend group and she is trying to be strong for everyone. I gave her four pieces of advice:
- It's important to just be there and listen to each other. To say, "I’m hurting too and I’m hanging in there with you."
- Even if she is the "strong one" for everyone else, she needs to take care of herself as well. There is a wall to be hit if you don’t take care of yourself.
- "Out is the way to go." Get it out...Pray it out, talk it out, cry it out, write it out, scream it out. Just get it out.
- Find a survivor support group in your area.
Suggestions for What's Next
As you move forward in your life after losing someone to suicide, here are some suggestions to help you along:
- Know you can survive; you may not think so, but you can.
- Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings but that all your feelings are normal.
- Find a good listener with whom to share.
- Expect setbacks. If emotions return like a tidal wave, you may only be experiencing a remnant of grief, an unfinished piece.
- Give yourself permission to get professional help.
- Be patient with yourself and others who may not understand.
- Steer clear of people who want to tell you what or how to feel.
- Consider joining a support group such as a Survivors of Suicide group.
- Call out to God and lean on your faith to help you through. God promises to be close to the broken-hearted and save those who are crushed in spirit.
- Ask others to pray for you. You can post a request on TheHopeLine Prayer.
I'd like to share this video with you from AFSP. It shares the story of Sarah Ash and how she coped after the loss of her father to suicide. You can watch it here.
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.