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.
I am here to tell you that you are not supposed to grieve according to any timeframe 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.
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 murderer of the person you loved.
- A sense of shame and stigma, that other people will think negatively about you and your family. Sometimes this can result in feeling alone and wanting to withdraw from others.
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
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, others, or even the victim.
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.”
The hard truth is that the only person responsible for any suicide is the victim. Yet, we don’t want to blame our loved one for their own death, so we blame ourselves. Perhaps it would be helpful to stop thinking in terms of “blame.” Blame brings up connotations of judging the person, and we don’t want to judge them because we still love them and deep down we know that they must have had a lot going on in their head that pushed them to the point of taking their own life. It might be better to think in terms of accepting the fact that they were responsible for their own death. We don’t need to judge or blame, but we can learn to accept it was their responsibility.
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
Recently, I took a call on my radio show from Rachel whose friend had died by suicide. She and her friends were all struggling. To hear some of my advice to her, please listen.
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.
For more suggestions, here is a list from suicidolgy.org.
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.
For more information on suicide, checkout TheHopeLine’s eBook: Understanding Suicide.