Survivors of Suicide
After someone ends their life by suicide
A guide to understanding your feelings after someone you love or care about takes their life
Questions you might ask after someone has succumbed to suicide
If someone you love has taken their life, you might be feeling devastated. You could be feeling shock, disbelief and horror. You might be asking yourself: Why did they do it? Could I have prevented it?
All these and so many other emotions can overwhelm you leaving you feeling hurt, helpless and confused. At times you might even question whether you’re going crazy. You may wonder whether you are the only person in the world experiencing such trauma. All these thoughts are very normal.
You are not alone. Many people before you have faced the same crisis.
When someone takes their own life, it can deeply affect not only the closest family and friends, but it also brings pain to more distant relatives and acquaintances like grandparents, cousins, friends, classmates, teachers and co-workers. Those directly affected by someone’s suicide is considered a survivor of suicide or suicide survivor.
Why didn’t I see it coming?
You might be saying to yourself: I’ve known this person for so long. I should have seen it coming. We talk every day. Why didn’t I know they were in so much pain?
Changes in a person’s behavior leading up to a death from suicide are often gradual. It can be extremely difficult to identify them and to recognize the point when they become significant. Often times, there are no obvious warning signs and the event is seemingly out of nowhere.
Once a person has made up his or her mind to do this, they might go to considerable lengths to conceal their distress and plans from loved ones. Even doctors and mental health professionals who specialize in this field can have difficulty seeing the warning signs.
It’s possible to survive
Many people feel such intense emotional pain after the suicide of a loved one that they wonder whether they can survive. These feelings can sometimes be so intense that you might want to take your own life. If you feel this way, it is best to talk about your feelings with someone you trust. You can always call Lines for Life at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or another crisis helpline to speak with a trained volunteer who will listen and understand what you are going through.
It is extremely important to take care of your own mental health, especially in the case of losing someone to suicide. Suicide is a known contagion, meaning people that were affected by the suicide are at a higher risk of engaging in suicidal behavior or having suicidal thoughts. In order to end the cycle, we need to process what has happened to this person, how it has affected us, and seek help when we need it.
No matter the circumstances leading up to the death of your loved one or acquaintance, try to remove any personal blame you may have in the situation. Their death is not your fault. If you cannot shake the feeling of guilt or blame, consider joining a Suicide Survivor group online or in-person, or unpacking your own trauma from the suicide by scheduling one-on-one appointments with a therapist specializing in grief and loss.
You might find it hard to believe now, but your grief will not always feel like this. Grief changes as you work through it, and though you’ll never forget, time will change some things. Everyone’s process looks differently, and however that looks to you, that’s okay. If you choose to and if you have the necessary support, you might grow as a person from the experience and integrate what happened into your life.
What to tell others
Many people find it extremely difficult to tell others the truth about the cause of their loved one’s death. They might be tempted to give other reasons. This strategy can seem to ease the initial feelings you might have like embarrassment but in the long run though, it adds to the stress because you might feel like you have to keep the lie going. When the truth eventually comes out, it can also be hard to explain the original deception.
Although suicide can be very hard to talk about, the more it is brought up in casual conversation or the more vulnerable we are in talking about our experiences with it (without going into detail), the more we can fight the stigma against it. The less stigma there is, the more people will be willing to talk openly about what they’re feeling, which is the goal of suicide prevention. As stated earlier, suicide is a contagion, so make sure your needs are met and that loved ones know there are other options too. Suicide prevention is a community effort.
You might find yourself in the position to have to tell people about your loved one’s death, which is a very difficult task regardless of the reason for their death. It might be easier to tell a number of people at once or by giving a simple statement in regards to their passing. Try not to go into too many details, as it can be triggering for you and others you tell.
Information in this article was provided by:
After Suicide: Help For the Bereaved by Sheila Clark, published in 1995 by Hill of Content Publishing Company Pty Ltd, Melbourne 3000
Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com