Helping Suicide Survivors
When a loved one dies by suicide, it is common to feel shocked, confused, angry, sad, or any combination of emotions. Due to the stigma surrounding suicide, survivors might have a difficult time reaching out to find support to help process through the grief.
Losing a loved one to suicide is a shock in itself. While nothing can prepare you for this situation, knowing the following, or sharing them with others, can be helpful.
- Police may have to get involved to investigate the death. Often, they will be looking to make sure that it was indeed a death by suicide and not made to look like a suicide by someone else. In the process, they may need to take possessions, letters, or other items. Be sure to keep an inventory of what was taken so it can be returned, and keep in mind that police may also want to question some family members.
- You do not have to speak with media, if they become involved. If you do, consider selecting a spokesperson from the family, or one reporter to talk to, that you can then refer others to.
- It may be necessary for someone to identify the body. If this step is not applicable, keep in mind that you may still want to view the body, to say goodbye. It is wise to consider the nature of the death and if choosing to see the body would be the most helpful choice for you. Research has shown that many survivors who choose to see the body believe it was the right choice.
- It is personal preference on how much information to include in an obituary, however, including the cause of death might help answer questions that you won’t have to answer in person later, prevent rumors, and help garner necessary support.
When planning the funeral, some funeral homes or religious beliefs may not be in the habit of handling deaths by suicide. Make sure to speak with funeral homes and any clergy members involved to make sure that your loved one’s death will be treated with support and dignity.
Coping with Suicide Grief
Grief is a complex process of emotions, memories, and adjustments. There is no right or wrong way to feel, and most suicide survivors report feeling some of the following:
Grief following a death by suicide is complex. Often, survivors feel like they cannot talk about it, because of how suicide is perceived in society. Survivors may often feel angry at the deceased, which can cause confusion since they are also sad about the death. Suicide can also cause survivors to feel traumatized, as the sudden and sometimes violent nature can leave lasting thoughts and memories that are hard to ignore.
These factors, and more, can compound the intense feelings of grief and can prevent any healing from occurring. If you are coping with suicide grief, one of the first things to do is find a support system. Handling grief alone is not a beneficial method, so consider speaking with a trusted family member or friend, a mental health professional, or joining a support group for suicide survivors. There are many resources available and can be found through agencies like the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which can be found online at www.afsp.org.
Helping Others Cope with Suicide Grief
If someone you know is a suicide survivor, there are things that you can do to help. While it might seem most comfortable to give them space, this could leave them feeling isolated and ashamed. You may not feel totally competent in helping others with suicide grief, but some of the following activities can be a great help.
- Listen – Active listening and a loving presence can provide tremendous support to a survivor. It is not necessary to “have the answer” or know the right words to say, and actually, some statements can leave the survivor feeling misunderstood or more upset. Instead, focus on the words that are being shared and actively choose to be compassionate, understanding, non-judgmental, and patient. Some of the information shared might seem repetitive or confusing to you, but just giving them a chance to share it can make a huge difference.
- Offer Your Help – When mourning a loss, family and friends often need more help with day to day tasks such as grocery shopping, preparing meals, running errands, and watching children or pets. You can ask “What can I do to help?” or better yet, offer to help with a specific task and let them know when you are available to do so.
- Build A Legacy – Some families may struggle to discuss memories of the person who died, and may even struggle to state the name of the person. It is kind to follow the lead of those closest to the deceased, but it can be helpful to remember the deceased and join in on sharing memories when the time is right. You can also consider donating to a memorial or attending a Suicide Awareness walk in memory of the deceased.
- Be There Long Term – Grief is an ongoing process, and as the weeks, months, and years continue on, a survivor may need more assistance around certain Holidays, days, or anniversaries. Sending a card or calling to check in can be thoughtful and helpful. You will not be reminding them of the loss; likely, they never forgot it in the first place.
Remember you can find help helping suicide survivors by talking to a counselor.