By Dr. Charmain Jackman & Aneesha Perkins
In our last article, we discussed five things you should know about suicide prevention – go check it out here. We’re continuing the conversation by providing tools specifically for loss survivors - those who have lost someone due to suicide. Suicide impacts one’s friends, families, colleagues, and the entire community, leaving it difficult to know how to pick up the pieces after their death and where to begin.
Check out these 4 tips to help you along your journey of grieving a loved one you lost to suicide:
Making Sense of Your Loss – When someone dies by suicide, those left behind are often in shock and may feel confused, guilty, regret, shame, anger, and a host of other emotions. Some people may try to replay scenes in their head to uncover if they missed signs; while others may be torn with guilt if they saw signs, but did not act. The unfortunate reality is that you may never know why the person made the decision to end their life. What we do know is that people who die by suicide are often in severe emotional pain and feel hopeless about their situation improving. Even if you were someone who was there for them, they may have struggled with not wanting to be a burden to you. While it may be easier said than done, it is critical to be gentle with yourself as you process the unexpected and tragic loss of your loved one. Focusing on their life and how they impacted you may be more helpful than focusing on how they died. Regardless of how you make sense of their death, how you grieve is personal and no one can dictate what that should look like.
Establish Boundaries for Yourself: One thing that I have noticed is that people are often interested to know how a person died. Was the loss due to an illness or an accident? Was the death sudden or expected? How old were they? Even though the answers do not change the outcome, people are curious about death. When a loved one dies by suicide, family members and friends may experience shame when asked about the cause of death. For this reason, it can help to think ahead about how you will respond to these questions. You can decide how transparent or closed you want to be, and know that your response may change depending on who is asking. Setting boundaries around your loved one’s suicide is healthy and necessary. You can also spend some time thinking of one or two responses that you could use. For example, you can say, “It is too painful to discuss right now” or “I want to focus on their life, and not their death.” Practice repeating it in the mirror a few times to feel comfortable saying it when the time arrives. Hopefully, people will get the message and move on to offering their support.
Release Your Feelings/Emotions – Are you feeling angry, hurt, frustrated, ashamed, disappointed, guilty, or sad in ways that are hard to verbalize openly? Losing someone you care about is hard. There are many emotions that you may be experiencing that you either don’t understand or may not want to say out loud to those close to you. However, make space for your thoughts and feelings, and express yourself through healthy mediums such as journaling, painting, or writing a letter to the deceased. While it may be tempting to turn to unhealthy activities such alcohol, drugs, or emotional eating, these only serve to temporarily numb the emotional pain, and prevent you from feeling or dealing with your emotions directly. Be intentional and set aside time to grieve and mourn your loss through written or artistic expression or physical activities such as walking or your favorite exercise.
Surround Yourself with Other Loss Survivors – You are not alone. What you’re experiencing isn’t uncommon, and many people can identify with the thoughts and feelings you are having. If it is too painful to talk to friends or family, consider joining a peer support group that is designed explicitly for suicide loss survivors. It can be comforting to be around others who have been through similar experiences, and it also provides a community that can support you during challenging moments. Social support is critical, especially during times of grief. Take a few minutes and be intentional in locating a support group here: https://afsp.org/find-a-support-group/
Grief is an ongoing and continuous process. While the loss of your loved one will never be easy to understand, how you work through the pain may help you process your feelings in a healthier way. Share with us some tools that have helped you grieve the loss of someone’s suicide in the comments below.
Crisis Hotlines Resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 800-273-TALK (8255) or TTY: Dial 800-799-4889
Samaritans Statewide Hotline 877-870-HOPE (4673)
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741
Military Crisis Line: Lines for Life: Call 888-457-4838 Text MIL1 to 839863
The Trevor Lifeline for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth and young adults: 866-4-U-TREVOR (488-7386).Parent
Link to these mental health screenings: https://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools