Disclaimer: If you or someone you know is thinking about hurting themselves, call the free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

 

Grief is overwhelming at best, no matter the cause of death, but a loss by suicide is particularly complicated. 

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates for adults in the United States are on the rise. Since 1999, suicide rates in 25 states increased by more than 30%. In the US, suicide accounted for nearly 45,000 deaths in 2016.

Suicide cuts across sex, age, and economic barriers. People of all ages complete suicide; men and women as well as young children. Sadly, no one is immune to this tragedy.

So how do you come to terms with the suicide of someone you know and love?

alone with emotional trauma

Asking The Question Why

Why would anyone willingly cause his or her death? It’s a tough question to ask.

Each suicide is individual, regardless of the generalized “why.” There may be no way you’ll completely understand the suicide victim’s thought process. No matter how much you search for a reason, you may not be able to answer the question “why.”

However, mental health professionals generally agree that people who took their own lives felt trapped by what they saw as hopeless. Whatever the reality, they felt isolated and cut off from life and friendships. Even if no physical illness was present, suicide victims felt intense pain, anguish, and hopelessness. 

John Newer, the author of After Suicide, says that they “probably weren’t choosing death as much as choosing to end this unbearable pain.”

Understanding and Preparing For Emotional Responses

Each suicide is individual, and so is the reaction, healing, and coping process. Whatever your response is, it is okay, it is healthy, and it is all part of the healing process.

Initial Shock

Shock is the first reaction to a death. You may feel numb and unable to follow a normal daily routine. This shock can be healthy, protecting you from the initial pain of the loss, and it may help you get through funeral arrangements and services. It may last a few days or go on for several weeks. Take some time to be alone, if that is what you want, but it is also essential to be with other people and to return to your routine.

After the initial shock, you may feel angry, guilty, and of course, sad. These feelings may overwhelm you all at once, or they may surface in future weeks, months, and years. 

 

The following feelings are normal and can vary throughout the healing process. Try to understand and accept what you are feeling. 

Guilt

prayer emotional self care

The most common feeling loved ones express after losing someone to suicide is remorse.

“Was there something I could have done to prevent this?” 

Professionals call this survivor’s guilt. While it’s a typical response, those who experience it must work through it in their own time in their way. It’s important to recognize that no one has complete control over another person’s actions. 

Shame

How many of us have heard people whispering about suicide, fearful of the reactions of those around us? 

Suicide still carries an enormously heavy stigma in many circles.  Finding the right people in your support network who are able to help you experience your loss is important. Sometimes, this may mean seeking professional help in order to help you cope with your loss.

 

Anger

Feelings like these are normal, yet they’re especially difficult to contend with if you’re grieving a loss related to a loved one’s suicide. Don’t try to deny or hide anger. It is possible to both be angry with someone and to still hold them dear in your heart. Sometimes you need to feel angry before you can accept the reality of the loss.

 

Relief

For many, the weeks and months, and even years leading up to the death by suicide have been a rollercoaster of emotion. 

If you were closely involved with the deceased, their pain and suffering could have become an emotional drain. Now you may be feeling a sense of relief that you don’t have to worry anymore or even relief that the deceased’s pain has finally ended. 

A sense of relief when a difficult situation ends is normal. When the end is an unhappy one, the relief can still be there, but now it is colored with guilt.

Remember, don’t expect perfection; accept your relief, and don’t let it grow to inappropriate guilt. Sadly, these feelings often cycle back to guilt or shame.

While it may feel wrong to be relieved, it’s perfectly normal to grapple with these feelings.

 

Looking Ahead

talk through emotional trauma

There will be times when these feelings will surface very strongly. Especially in the first year, you’ll need to decide if you want to maintain traditions or create new traditions to ease painful memories. 

On the anniversary of the death, you may want to be alone, attend church, or observe the day in a manner that means something special to you. Or you may prefer to spend that time with someone close to you or make plans for a family gathering. 

You can’t avoid these periods of sadness, but try to prepare for the feelings so they will not be overwhelming. Sometimes, your loneliness and sadness may come back for no reason; be prepared to face this, too.

 

Moving Forward, One Step at a Time

Your grief and sadness will eventually subside, and you’ll be able to pick up the pieces of your life and rebuild. You will never “get over” the loss you’ve experienced, but you can “get through” it. This loss has changed you, but you can learn how to survive and grow from this challenge. 

There’s no map to get back to the living; no one size fits all approach. You build your path to healing as you go, putting one foot in front of the other. 

Whatever you do, do not travel this path of healing alone. 

Ask for help from friends or counseling services if you need them. You can’t expect to forget, but you’ll be able to cope.

 

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