Coping With the Suicide of a Loved One
“I can’t believe this happened!” “How could she do this to me?” “Why didn’t I see this coming and stop it?” “This is my fault.” Such are the laments of survivors of those who have committed suicide.
Although the death of a loved one is always a sad experience, when that death is due to suicide, the grief can be overwhelming. Often, sorrow is coupled with guilt as survivors struggle with thoughts of what they might have done to prevent the death.
There is sometimes a stigma to having lost a loved one this way. If this happened to you, you may feel isolated and alone in your loss as your friends seemingly avoid you simply because they do not know what to say.
Experts agree that those who have lost a loved one to suicide will initially feel like they fell into a hole and will never be able to crawl out. By understanding suicide and implementing certain coping skills, it is possible to survive and eventually move forward with your life, even though your life will never be the same.
You Are Not Alone: Suicide Statistics
In the U.S., one person kills themselves every 12 minutes. That person leaves a minimum of six survivors who “experience a major life disruption.” This estimate is considered to be low, but this means that there are more than 250,000 suicide loss survivors every year. In the last 25 years, there have been more than 6 million survivors of suicide.
No matter how many other people may have experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide, your grief is yours alone. There is no formula for surviving and no master list of dos and don’ts to help you through.
Coping With Suicide Loss: Feelings to Expect
The unexpected loss of a loved one for any reason is shocking and painful. When that loss is due to suicide, grief is intense, overwhelming and indescribable. It may be long lasting. There is no real prediction of emotions you may feel, nor when you will feel them. Grief is individual and unique. “Grief does not follow a linear path.”
Life will never be the same. The goal is to adjust to life without the loved one and to “take things one day at a time.” A few common emotions include:
- Anger expressed often as, “How could he/she do this to me?”
- Shock. You may not believe this really happened to you or that your loved one could really have done such a thing.
- Despair. You may be so despondent you believe you cannot go on. You may even have a physical collapse and need medical attention. In the depths of your despair, you may even have your own suicidal thoughts.
- Self-blame and guilt. There may be an overwhelming sense that you should have known how bad the person was feeling. You should have seen the signs and prevented the suicide. It is human nature to experience these feelings, but the truth is, some things are just out of our control. You cannot know all the reasons that prompted your loved one to take his or her own life.
- Abandonment and rejection. You cannot understand why your relationship with your loved one was not enough to keep him or her from taking this action.
- Hopelessness. You may feel so overwhelmed with sadness and depression that you see no light ahead. You assume you will always feel this way and there is no hope for your future.
- You continuously ask “Why?” You may need to accept the fact that you will never completely understand why. No matter how much you flagellate yourself about how you should have noticed the signs, there are simply some things you cannot know. You cannot be in the mind of the person who committed suicide. You cannot know the depth of their anguish or their final reasons for taking their own life.
You may have these reactions for months. You may have difficulty concentrating. If you were the one who discovered the suicide, you may have flashbacks and nightmares even years into the future.
You will always wonder why this happened. There may be moments throughout the remainder of your life when your extremely painful grief will reappear for a period of time. But, there are coping mechanisms you can use that will eventually lessen the intensity of your pain and help you concentrate so the suicide is not what dominates your life and your thoughts.
Coping With Suicide Loss: Strategies for Getting Through the Pain
There is no easy fix and no one-size-fits-all approach to recovering from the loss of a loved one to suicide. Here are some recommendations from those who have also experienced such a loss as well as from those who work professionally with suicide survivors.
- Accept that you will not get over this. A profound experience like the suicide of a loved one changes you forever. But, you will get through it and learn how to survive.
- Recognize that all your emotions are normal and common. As professional Iris M. Bolton says, “You are not crazy, you are in mourning.”
- It is okay to be angry.
- Allow yourself to cry. This is a natural reaction to the loss of a loved one.
- Reach out to your loved ones and friends and accept the comfort they want to provide.
- Grieve at your own pace in your own way. Do not let anyone tell you how you should be feeling or what you should be doing. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
- Know there will be good days and bad days, and that is okay.
- Seek professional help or the assistance of a support group. It may be helpful to join a group of suicide survivors who can relate to you in ways not possible by those who have not experienced your specific type of pain.
- Take care of yourself by getting a proper diet, exercise and sleep. This is, of course, easier said than done, but do the best you can.
Give yourself time to heal. Even though you will never be the same again, there will come a time where your emotions will not overwhelm you. You can let them diminish, and not take over your life. This does not mean you will forget, it only means you will survive.