Grief is a normal response to losing someone important to us. When someone dies by suicide, those bereaved often experience a very complicated form of grief caused by a combination of sudden shock, unanswered questions of ‘Why?’ and feelings of ‘What could I have done?’. They may experience a range of emotions highlighting the dramatic personal effect suicide can have and the important but difficult task of helping someone bereaved by suicide.
For those dealing with the suicide of someone they know, it’s important they feel free to talk about their reactions to suicide openly and honestly, to find support to make sense of what has happened, deal with their grief and learn how to live with their loss.
How does suicide bereavement affect us?
Suicide loss can impact on physical and mental health. It’s important people bereaved by suicide are treated with compassion and support.
They may experience:
- Shock, numbness, denial
- Searching for reasons ‘why?’
- Stigma and shame
- Thoughts of suicide themselves
Help and support after a loss by suicide
If you are dealing with the suicide of a friend or loved one, it is important to find support to make sense of what has happened, deal with the grief and learn how to live with your loss.
The pain of suicide loss can’t be eased quickly but there are things you can do that will help:
- Take time out - it’s ok to give yourself time out from the pain you are experiencing by doing something you enjoy, even if you don’t feel like doing it at the time.
- Stay connected and accept support - from friends, family, and support networks. This will reduce your sense of isolation and feelings of loneliness associated with grief.
- Honour the deceased person - talk about them, keep a journal, share memories and photos.
- Stay healthy - eat well, exercise, try to sleep and avoid drugs and alcohol.
- Priortise daily tasks - only do what is essential, avoid making major decisions until you can think more clearly.
- Ask for help if you need it - talk to a counsellor/psychologist, a helpline like Lifeline, friends and family to find comfort, support and ways to cope.
- Join a suicide bereavement support group - sharing your experience with others who have been through similar experiences will help you realise you are not alone and that you can survive.
"One learns to live with the loss, the tragedy, the waste, and the gaping hole in the fabric of one's life. There is no closure, nor would I want one. I want to remember him all my life, vividly: his laughter, the smell of his sneakers under his bed, his moments of joy, his humility, and his integrity."
How you can help someone bereaved by suicide
If you know someone bereaved by suicide, you can help by:
- Accepting their rage, guilt, depression, self-centredness and blame-placing without judging them
- Letting them cry
- Not asking "why" or if there was anything that could have been be done
- Encouraging them to talk about the death with any children - they need help too
- Mentioning the loved one by name
- Including the bereaved person in your normal activities
- Realising that working through grief can take years and that the hurt is never forgotten
- Urging them to wait before making any major changes such as moving, giving away possessions or quitting a job
- Understanding they can’t just ‘get over it’ but grow their lives around it
- Suggesting they join a suicide bereavement support group
- If and when appropriate, asking them if they are thinking about suicide.
- Getting them professional help if they need it