Grief is more complicated when death is sudden and there has been no opportunity to say goodbye. When death by suicide occurs, people experience trauma and grief. This can be overwhelming. This powerful response is made even more difficult by the stigma that is often associated with suicide.
There are Many Normal Reactions to Suicide Loss:
- Shock and numbness
- Deep sadness
- Anger and blame
- Why questions
- Spiritual or religious beliefs
- Thinking about suicide
- Reaching out
Coping Strategies for Living With Suicide Grief
Claim your right to grieve
Not only is it important to grieve, but it is also 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.
Doing something active rather than just thinking to resolve emotions is healthy. Examples include journaling, writing letters, walking, and exercising.
Take care of your body
Traumatic grief is a very physical experience. Sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, pain, and anxiety are physical reactions to stress. See your family doctor to discuss your body’s way of dealing with stress.
Eat nutritiously and exercise as often as possible. Physical activity can help. It can restore energy and reduce anxiety.
Take care of your feelings
Your body has natural coping mechanisms which assist you in the early phases of traumatic grief. The initial experience of shock may lead you to feel detached, confused, numb, forgetful, and overwhelmed. As the weeks pass by, feelings begin to come out that reflect the pain of your loss. Protest, guilt, loneliness, shame, and very deep sadness are just a few of the many feelings which may experience in waves of varying intensity. These feelings are there for a reason – acknowledge your feelings and express them. You are grieving and grief is nature’s way of healing a broken heart.
Take care of yourself
- You can get through this
- Take one day at a time
- Let others know what you are feeling
- Set limits on what others are asking of you
- Keep time for yourself
- Remember your own personal strengths during previous difficult times
- Let others help you
- Find supportive friends, relatives, co-workers, or anyone you feel comfortable talking to
- Get professional help
- Acknowledge and share feelings with others who understand what you are going through … join a support group
- It’s O.K. to take a break from grief to experience moments of peace and joy
The search for WHY?
Allow yourself to search for answers as to why things happen and how things come to be. Asking questions is part of working through the trauma and the responsibility that you may be feeling. This may lead to a greater understanding of the death of your loved one. It will assist you in the release of feelings of guilt and sorrow. You may not get all of the answers, but you will gradually learn to live with questions as you begin to create your new normal. It is important to know that the pain will lessen and that you will heal. Build a community of support – grief work cannot be done alone.
Conquer the Stigma
Society continues to struggle to understand suicide. Suicide is the end result of a complex set of thoughts and behaviours. It is set on a continuum of ideas to actions. It is the result of an illness that affects one’s ability to make healthy choices and to see hope.
There are many myths about suicide that contribute to stigma.
Suicide can impact anyone regardless of their gender or economic or social status.
A better understanding of the issues will lead to a healthier society and a reduction in stigma.
Suicide prevention organizations encourage the use of non-judgemental language. The term “died by suicide” is the accepted term to replace “committed” or “completed” suicide, which perpetuates stigma.
Talking about suicide will impact our entire community. It will begin a dialogue that will encourage healthy lifestyles, shared understanding, and hope for those who are affected.
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 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 and 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.
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – Hope and Healing After Suicide: A practical guide for people who have lost someone to suicide in Ontario
- Mental Health Commission of Canada – Toolkit for people who have been impacted by a suicide loss
- Government of Manitoba – Suicide Prevention: Guidelines for Public Awareness & Education (includes guidelines for memorialization)
For more information and resources on grief after a suicide loss, check out these pages on our website: