The grief process following a suicide loss may be very different from grief experienced with other losses. Grief involves many different layers – mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. Grief is an active process involving choices. Each person’s process is unique and depends on factors such as personality, relationship to the deceased, personal histories and supports.
Normal Reactions to Suicide Loss
Shock and numbness
Suicide bereavement is one of the most intensely painful experiences you are likely to undergo. The pain may be so overwhelming initially, that your natural defense mechanism shuts down. At some point the numbness leaves and you will need to go through the pain that is buried.
Deep sadness is normal. Other common feelings experienced may include: helplessness, hopelessness, fear, failure, anxiety, depression, rejection and abandonment.
Anger and blame
Anger and blame may be directed towards those you perceive to have been at fault. These may include doctors, counselors, friends, family, yourself or even the person that died.
Survivors of suicide often feel they missed or ignored earlier warning signs of distress. Hindsight plays a role in this. Others may have decided to give up trying to help as they needed distance to keep themselves healthy.
It may be difficult to discuss the cause of death for fear of being judged. Rather than telling stories, it is okay to say you are not ready to talk about the loss.
Some people continue to believe the myth that all people who die by suicide are either mentally ill or come from dysfunctional families. Others who care may stay away as they do not know what to say or how to be helpful. Let friends and family know what you need from them.
You may feel relief after a suicide, especially when the relationship with the deceased has been difficult and chaotic or if you have watched the person suffer for a long time.
You may not fully accept the reality of the suicide. You may move in and out of denial. This is especially common in the initial phase of grief.
Asking”Why” questions over and over in an effort to understand the reason your loved one died by suicide is a normal part of the healing process. With suicide, even when people think they have touched upon the answer – the “Why” question continues to surface.
You may fear that other family members or friends will die. Loss of self-esteem and confidence in problem solving or decision-making is normal.
The world as you knew it changed the moment your loved one died. Grief impacts everything including sleep patterns, eating habits, concentration, energy levels and motivation.
Spiritual or Religious Beliefs
Spiritual beliefs and values previously held may be challenged. You may question the meaning or purpose of life. Fear of rejection by your religious community can also be a factor.
Due to the intensity of the grief process, some people just want the pain to end and begin to experience suicidal thoughts. Having these thoughts is common and does not mean you will act on them. However, it is important to seek help and have an assessment completed regarding these thoughts and feelings. (See Resources – at end of pamphlet).
If you feel you need more support than family or friends can provide, contact your doctor or counseling agency in your area. Other resources include Canadian Mental Health Associations, spiritual community, bereavement support group, crisis line and Provincial Suicide Line.
Coping Strategies for Living With Suicide Grief
Claim your right to grieve
Not only is it important to grieve, it is necessary to experience the pain of the suicide loss in order to gain relief. Remember the grief process takes a long time and may never be fully resolved.
Grief is emotional. It is a natural response to a traumatic loss. Make time to grieve. Let people you trust know when you need support. Teach others how they can be helpful. Most people will not automatically know what you need. Talk to others who have experienced a loss by suicide.
Actions - Doing something active rather than just thinking to resolve emotions is healthy. Examples include, journaling, writing letters, walking and exercising.
How To Support Those Living With Suicide Loss
It is important for relatives, friends and the larger community to support people throughout the grief process. The following are some suggestions on how to assist survivors directly.
Respect the timing and pacing of an individual’s grief process. It is a difficult journey. Encourage them to make choices that are right for them.
Offer compassionate listening, understanding and patience. Offer to do some specific tasks or chores.
Reassure survivors what they are feeling is normal.
Find out what supports are available in the community regarding a suicide loss.
Contact the bereaved person on a regular basis.
Research the impact of suicide loss. This will help you provide support to survivors in healthy ways.
Be courageous – approach those that have lost a loved one by suicide. Let them know you heard. Ask them how they really are. This is important even if it has been some time since the actual death.
Resources and Support
After a Suicide Memorials
School Memorials After Suicide: Helpful or Harmful? (p. 1) http://www.suicideinfo.ca/csp/assets/alert54.pdf
After a Suicide: Recommendations for Religious Services and Other Public Memorial Observances. (p. 10) http://www.sprc.org/library/aftersuicide.pdf
School Memorials: Should We? How Should We? (a general look at memorials) http://www.tlcinst.org/memorials.html
Recommendations for a Community Plan/Prevention of Suicide Clusters: CDC (p. 8) http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00001755.htm
Suicide Contagion and the Reporting of Suicide: Recommendations from a National Workshop (p. 5) http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00031539.htm
Programs for the Prevention of Suicide Among Adolescents and Young Adults
Suicide Contagion and the Reporting of Suicide: Recommendations from a National Workshop (p. 18) http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/rr/rr4306.pdf
For more information on suicide, surviving suicide loss and suicide survivor support groups we would encourage you to click on the province links for groups in your area and any of the other following websites:
- www.afsp.org (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
- www.siec.ca (Suicide Information and Education Resource Centre)
- www.suicidology.org (American Association of Suicidology)
- www.iasp.info (International Association for Suicide Prevention)
- www.sprc.org (Suicide Prevention Resource Centre)
Committed to providing survivors with information and empowering them to become involved in prevention.
No More Secrets. No more Shame. No more Suicides. You are not alone.