If you have suffered a loss of a loved one due to suicide or if you have friends or relatives who are experiencing this type of mourning … .. We hope that these simple lines can help you figure out how to cope with this difficult time.
How common is Suicide?
Approximately one out of four knows someone who has died by suicide. The deceased leaves behind a network of family members and close friends who are faced with a welter of feelings that are the same that you’re probably trying to deal with right now.
What are the most common feelings in a death by suicide?
Shock, Denial, Pain, Anger, Shame, Despair, Depression, Rejection, Abandonment, Sadness, Numbness, Disbelief, Stress, Guilt, Loneliness, Anxiety.
Is it my fault? Could I have done something to prevent the tragedy to happen?
No, it’s not your fault. After a suicide, family members and friends often retrace the circumstances and the events that happened before the suicide and blame themselves for things they think they should (or should not) have done and said. “If I only had persuaded him to ask for help!” Or “If I only had not said I wanted a separation …”.
Although suicide is an individual decision, feeling guilty or responsible for what happened is a very common and normal reaction for survivors (relatives or friends who have suffered the loss).
Perhaps it may help to know that the changes in behavior and mood that lead to think about suicide can be very gradual, and it is very difficult to detect when a person gets to the point of ruptura. Even medical professionals find it difficult to know when a person is particularly at risk.
Support groups and self-help may be an important aid in helping to alleviate the guilt.
Are there several stages in the mourning process? How many steps I’ll have to go through?
There are several stages of mourning. The three steps described below are those that most people experience. However, people do not always pass through the stages in the order described here. Some people may find themselves going back and forth, and even their life may vary accordingly.
Stage I – Numbness or Shock: Initially, people seem to enter a sort of “automatic pilot”: respond to the stresses and demands “because it is needed”; they may feel anger, confusion or even relief, depending on the circumstances. These feelings are normal. Many people at this stage try to keep an emotional distance from others to protect themselves and to avoid discussing the circumstances of death.
Stage II – Disorganization: This is a stage where one feels alone, depressed and hopeless. one can have problems with insomnia or eating. Some people may feel sorry for themselves and at times can suffer from real hallucinations. People often torture themselves thinking about what they should have done to prevent the tragedy to happen. At this point the help of a specialist may be also needed.
Stage III – Reorganization: One begins to discover that there are times in the day where they do not think about the loss. The feelings of pain will not be as intense and one can start to focus on the activities of daily life. At this point most people need a good deal of encouragement to reintegrate into working life. Maybe they will not be able to accept the idea of death, but they will manage to overcome the pain.
Relief and anger are normal reactions?
All types of loss are painful; however, when it comes to a death by suicide, the reactions may be even heavier. The predictability of mood changes become more complex. The length of time required to pass through the various stages of pain may also change because of the different circumstances.
Feelings of anger, confusion and relief are natural, denial no. One should not try to suppress the pain or pretend to live as usual. If the deceased had long been depressed and or had already attempted suicide, there is nothing wrong with feeling relieved that the weight of that situation is gone. Or one may feel very angry because the missing person has given them another burden to carry.
If these feelings are not processed, they will become an impediment to the process of mourning. Not progressing, not going ahead is dangerous; it can also cause mental and physical illnesses and can destroy families and friendships. This can prevent people from accepting the suicide loss and coming to terms with the new situation.
One has to face own feelings before they can be understood.
How suicide has repercussions on the entire family?
It is important to understand (and accept) that not all members of the family will be afflicted by grief in the same way or will go through the same stages at the same time.
Each family member needs its own space and own time and to know that they are understood in their specific way of dealing with pain.
Women usually are able to better express the pain in an emotional way, by crying or talking about their pain, revisiting what happened in order to try to find an explanation, while men try to come to terms with their grief by dealing with practical things and trying to be strong for the sake of the family.
For children it is normal to pass from tears and despair to laughing and wanting to go out and play as if nothing had happened.
We must be careful not to ignore or forget their pain. They need help in coping with it, but must not be “protected” from it.
Be honest with children about the cause of death. Otherwise, they will be forced to go through the grieving process again when they learn the truth. Children are especially vulnerable to feelings of guilt and abandonment.
It ‘s very important that they understand that what happened is not their fault and that someone next door will take care of them.
How my friends will react?
Typically, friends are very important. They want to give support and help, but often do not know how. They may be afraid to overpower you, or think that you want to be alone. Guide them. Tell your friends that you need to talk about your loss. By opening yourself, you will help yourself and help your friends to help you.
The people who talk about their feelings are usually the people who recover more quickly. If your friends seem uncomfortable talking about death, or even to be with you, this could be a reaction to your discomfort. If you feel uncomfortable talking to the circumstances, do not do it. Your friends will understand.
As a friend, what should I do?
Try to understand and be patient. The best thing you can do as a friend is listening: active listening, without judgment, criticism or prejudice, of what your friend is telling you is the best thing you can do. You’ll have to be patient, repetition is part of the healing process; survivors need to tell the same story many times.
Know that your friend will be able to experience different emotions such as crying, screaming, anger, being anxious and irritable, or alternatively may remain silent and apart. Allow him/her to express the grief in own ways. Do not say what they should do or how they should feel.
Do not ignore their pain and equally don’t overwhelm them with too many attentions.
Do not blame anyone.
Suicide is a decision made by one person, and the judgements are not to address the family. Do not try to speed up the process of grieving. A person may need a long time to go through the pain, cope with the confusion and come to terms with their own feelings.
Be available to help out with the chores of everyday life. Remember that shame and embarrassment may prevent the survivors to seek help, and the stigma that often surrounds the death by suicide may be so that the people are not able to give the necessary support or understanding.
If you think that this is the case, encourage your friend to consider outside help (also from a professional) or a support group in the community. In a group of self-help for survivors of suicide, your friend will be able to discuss their feelings with others who have suffered the same kind of loss.
Need more help?
Since many people find it embarrassing to talk about suicide, it can be difficult to find someone in your circle of relatives or friends to confide in, and may be easier to talk to someone who is not involved.
If you feel you need it, you can call our telephone number 800 168678 or you can take part in our FORUM: “BREAKING THE SILENCE”, SPECIFICALLY DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO ARE BEREAVED BY SUICIDE and conceived by survivors to help other survivors in order to celebrate their courage and resilience.
If you want to read more:
BEYOND SURVIVAL: 25 TIPS FOR SURVIVORS.
written by a pioneer of the movement of the survivors, Iris M. Bolton.