Grief and bereavement after a suicide
Grief and bereavement after a suicide can be an overwhelming and intense experience. One of the most difficult aspects of suicide loss is the sense of shock and disbelief that often accompanies it. Suicide can be sudden and unexpected, leaving loved ones struggling to come to terms with what has happened.
You may find yourself preoccupied with finding an explanation as to why the person chose to end their life. It’s not uncommon to question whether you could have done more to prevent the suicide, or to wonder what you could have done differently. Unfortunately, you may never really know what the person was going through at that time. This can make grief more complex and draining. The search for an explanation of the suicide can also bring up thoughts and questions about your relationship with the person, which can amplify your loss.
Everyone will experience grief and bereavement after a suicide differently. For some, you may make some changes in your life, relationships, and your view of yourself. As the grieving process unfolds, people will often concentrate more on your life’s meaning or purpose and your hopes, beliefs, and plans for the future.
Grief is not a sign that you aren’t coping. Instead, it is a normal part of the process of healing.
The grieving process and understanding the emotional impact of suicide
Finding out about a loved one’s suicide can be an overwhelming experience, and it is natural to feel shocked and find it difficult to believe what has happened. This initial reaction of shock can be especially intense if you were the first to discover the person. You may also find yourself replaying images of the death in your mind – either real or reconstructed – which can be distressing.
The shock can also have physical symptoms, such as tremors, upset stomach or stomach pains, trouble sleeping, breathlessness or pain in the chest. These physical reactions are your body’s way of dealing with the emotional pressure. If you are finding it difficult to cope with these symptoms, it is advisable to seek medical help.
Denial and disbelief
Coming to terms with the death of a loved one is a difficult process, and it is common to experience denial or disbelief. You may find yourself expecting the person to return or phone you and feel as though you are in a dream state. It’s common for people to experience denial or try to bargain with reality to make sense of the loss. These feelings are normal protective responses that can help you cope with the loss. Over time, these feelings may lessen as you begin to adjust to the loss.
Asking why did this happen?
Understanding why a loved one took their own life can be one of the most challenging aspects of bereavement by suicide. It is natural to want answers, but you may never find a satisfactory one. This can lead to repetitive thoughts that can be distressing. If you find yourself struggling with these thoughts, it may be helpful to see a counsellor or psychologist who can offer coping strategies. You can call SuicideLine Victoria on 1300 651 251.
People bereaved following suicide often experience feelings of guilt and a sense of failure that the suicide was not prevented. You may feel you should have seen it coming, or that you could have done more to prevent it.
People often worry about not having picked up on cues or the suicidal behaviour prior to the death. It’s important to remember that it is easier to recognise a person’s distress in hindsight, and that the level of support you offered them was based on your understanding of their situation at the time.
Anger and blaming
Anger with the deceased person is normal but often confusing. You may feel angry at them for leaving and causing so much pain. You might find yourself blaming someone you perceive as having contributed to the suicide, such as a health professional or a relative, for not having done more. You may also feel angry at yourself for not preventing the suicide.
Talking about the anger you are feeling often helps. Alternatively, a physical activity, such as walking or playing a sport, can help you to release pent-up anger.
Another factor that can make suicide loss especially complicated is the stigma and shame that can be associated with suicide. You may feel hesitant to talk openly about the suicide or to seek support from others out of fear of judgment or blame. This can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can make the grieving process even more difficult.
Accepting the person’s decision to end their life can help to alleviate any feelings of shame you may be experiencing. Your close friends may want to talk with you about the loss and how they can support you, but they may not know where to start. You can make it easier for them (and yourself) by keeping in touch and letting them know what you need, when you are ready to talk about it.
Looking after yourself after a suicide
It’s critical that you take care of yourself during this very overwhelming and emotionally exhausting time. This may mean practising self-care activities and reaching out to friends and family for support.
You can try the following:
- Try to maintain your wellbeing by staying active, eating healthy meals, and getting regular sleep.
- Surround yourself with people who care for you and make sure to take time for yourself whenever necessary.
- Practise self-care activities that may include journalling, spending time in nature, mindfulness, listening to music, playing a sport, watching your favourite TV show, creating art or anything else you enjoy.
- Friends and family may want to talk to you about the death or help you with your grief but not know how to begin. Talk to them about how you’re feeling at each stage of the grieving process. Let them know what’s important to you and what things may help.
- Be prepared for anniversaries or other significant events. Sometimes anticipating these events are harder than the actual date. To make it easier, plan in advance and talk to others who may also be struggling. Remember that everyone grieves differently, so give space and time for each person to mark occasions in their own way.
- Using rituals can help with grieving by marking significant occasions and commemorating the life of the person who has died. These can be simple things like lighting a candle, listening to special music or songs, reading poems, looking at photos, or creating a memory book/box.
- Take things one day at a time and go at your own pace.
Be kind to yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it – grieving after a suicide is a difficult and complex process, and it’s okay to lean on others for support.
Getting professional support
If you have been bereaved after a suicide, there are resources and support available to help you navigate this difficult time.
Speaking to a counsellor on SuicideLine Victoria 1300 651 251 can help. You can also reach out to your GP who can give you a referral to see a psychologist. StandBy Support also provides a service dedicated to people and communities bereaved by suicide. A support group can also be a valuable resource, allowing you to connect with others who have experienced similar losses.
Sometimes the pain and trauma of losing someone to suicide can be so intense that people may feel suicidal themselves. If you are thinking of suicide, it is critical that you get some professional assistance, either by calling a helpline, or seeing your GP or other health professional. You can also read our other resources on our website that offer advice on dealing with suicidal feelings. If it is an emergency, please call 000.
The reasons behind each suicide are unique, and so too are the reactions, grief, and coping processes of those left behind.
Look after yourself while you are grieving. Know that it’s okay to experience moments of positivity, happiness, and hopefulness for the future.
The length of time that you grieve does not reflect the amount of love felt for the person who has died. It’s possible to hold onto cherished memories and move forward in life at the same time. You’ll never forget, but you’re allowed to move on.
Don’t let it build up. If you’re concerned about your emotional or mental health, call SuicideLine Victoria on 1300 651 251. Our professional counsellors are available 24/7. If it is an emergency, call 000.