Grief after Suicide

Coming to terms with the death of a loved one is one of life’s most challenging
journeys. When the death is from suicide, family members and friends can
experience an even more complex kind of grief. While trying to cope with the pain
of their sudden loss, they are overwhelmed by feelings of blame, anger and
incomprehension. Adding to their burden is the stigma that still surrounds suicide.
Survivors of suicide and their friends can help each other and themselves by
gaining an understanding of grief after suicide. For survivors, it helps to know that
the intensity of their feelings is normal. Friends can learn how to support the
bereaved.

A Different Grief
Survivors of suicide – the family and friends of a person who completes suicide –
feel the emotions that death always brings. Adding to their suffering is the shock
of a sudden, often unexpected death. As well, they may feel isolated and judged
by society, friends and colleagues.
Some people compare the emotional stress to being trapped on an endless
roller-coaster. Survivors may feel:
• guilt, anger, blame, shame, confusion, relief, despair, betrayal,
abandonment
• disconnected from their loved one because he or she chose to die
• consumed by a need to find the meaning and reasons for the suicide
• an exaggerated sense of responsibility for the death
• the suicide was malicious, or a way for the deceased to get back at them.

Stigma Affects Mourning
Suicide is a difficult topic for many people. Cultural and religious taboos can lead
to judgmental or condemning attitudes. Some people prefer to avoid even
discussing suicide and their lack of knowledge about it makes them fearful.
Attitudes like these can isolate and further stress survivors.
Stigma leads survivors to feel abandoned by their social network. They describe:
• Being avoided by friends or acquaintances
• Feeling judged
• People behaving as if the death had not occurred Some survivors perceive stigma that is not really there. They may anticipate
difficult questions and disapproval, and withdraw in order to protect themselves.
Whether it is real or perceived, stigma can affect a survivor’s journey to
acceptance.

What Survivors Should Know
First, know that you are not alone. Approximately 1 out of 4 people know
someone who died by suicide. It can also help to know that:
• Suicide was the decision of the person who died
• It is estimated that the majority of suicides are the result of untreated
depression or other mental illness

Survivors Are at Risk
Survivors of suicide are at high risk of completing suicide themselves. The
experience suddenly makes the idea of suicide very real, and it is not uncommon
for survivors to experience suicidal thoughts. Another factor is that suicide-related
illnesses like depression run in families.
Because of this increased risk for suicide, survivors should not be isolated, but
rather supported and encouraged to talk about all their feelings – even the most
difficult ones.

Survivor Coping Strategies
No two people ever experience grief in the same way, or with the same intensity,
but there are strategies that can help you cope with your loss.
• Acknowledge that the death is a suicide
• Recognize your feelings and loss
• Talk openly with your family so that everyone’s grief is acknowledged and
can be expressed
• Reach out to your friends and guide them if they don’t know what to say or
do
• Find support groups where you can share your stories, memories and
methods of coping
• Be aware that anniversaries (e.g. birthdays) can be especially difficult and
consider whether to continue old traditions or begin new ones
• Develop rituals to honour your loved one’s life How Can I Help My Friend? How Can I Help My Friend?
Showing a willingness to listen is probably the most important thing you can do
for a friend who is a survivor of suicide. It may be distressing at first, but you’re
not expected to provide answers. Instead, you can be a comforting, safe place for
someone who desperately needs to talk.
What you can do:
• Listen with non-judgmental compassion
• Understand that your friend will need time to deal with their loss
• Avoid clichés
• Talk about the person who has died
• Offer practical assistance such as shopping, cooking, driving
• Find and offer information on resources, support groups, etc.
• Be aware of difficult times, like anniversaries and holidays

Where To Go For More Information
For further information, contact a community organization like the Canadian
Mental Health Association to find out about support and resources in your
community.
Information from the Canadian Mental Health Association website - www.cmha.ca