Surviving the suicide of a loved one is terribly painful. You may experience many emotions all at once, including shock, confusion and even anger. A common emotion that suicide survivors feel is guilt. People tend to wonder how they could have prevented the suicide. These are all normal thoughts and emotions. Although it will take time, with the right support you can continue on successfully with your life.
Understanding your grief
In the days, weeks and even months following your loved one's suicide, you may find yourself experiencing a broad range of emotions. As you wrestle with your feelings, do your best to be kind to yourself. Don't worry about whether what you're experiencing is considered normal. There is no "right" way to grieve the loss of someone who died by suicide. While there are common stages of grief, your feelings are yours and yours alone.
What are the common stages of grief?
- Shock — When you first hear about your loved one's suicide, you may be in such a state of shock that you are incapable of processing any emotions.
- Denial — Next, you might experience disbelief over the news and find yourself thinking, "This isn't happening."
- Guilt — This stage is particularly common for suicide survivors. You may find yourself obsessing over what you could have done differently.
- Sadness — As you come to terms with what has happened, the feelings of sadness may be overwhelming. This stage may never truly go away, but giving yourself time to heal will make it more manageable.
- Anger — During this stage, you may look to place blame on others or even find yourself angry with your departed loved one. While it's normal and understandable to feel angry, do your best to control your feelings with a healthy reaction. Talk to a friend, go for a walk or write in your journal.
- Acceptance — Commonly thought of as the final stage of grief, acceptance is when you realize your life will continue. You may still be mourning your loved one, but grief is no longer your life's focal point.
Unfortunately, despite these stages, grief is not a list of feelings you can check off one-by-one. You might face each stage more than once. You may not face some stages at all. Don't put pressure on yourself to handle your grief in any prescribed way. Just do your best to stay in touch with how you're feeling and take care of yourself through each emotion.
How can I cope with my grief?
- Ask for help from family and friends. The people closest to you may want to help but not know where to start. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need, even if what you need is space.
- Talk about your grief. Expressing your feelings can help you not feel so alone. Talk to trusted friends, family members or a counselor about what you're feeling.
- Take care of yourself. Do your best to give your body what it needs, even when you don't feel like it. Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy food and keep up an exercise routine.
How can I break the news to others?
Sharing bad news is never easy, but the news of a suicide can be particularly difficult to talk about. There may not be anything you can do to make the situation any easier, but you can ensure the news is given under the best circumstance.
- Make sure the people closest to the deceased know first.
- Create a supportive environment where people will feel comfortable expressing their emotions.
- Be gentle and patient, but avoid being vague or indirect with the news.
- Be reassuring, but don't undermine the severity of what has happened.
- Understand that people experience grief differently.
When someone you love dies, you may find yourself constantly asking “what now?” You'll find your own answer in time, but here are a few suggestions for continuing to live your life while keeping your departed loved one close to your heart.
- Acknowledge the special days. The "firsts" are always the hardest — the first birthday, the first holiday, the first anniversary — but acknowledging them openly with trusted family and friends can be a cathartic way to pay tribute.
- Don't be afraid to find joy. You may initially feel guilty about having a good day or laughing at a funny joke. However, living your best life is one of the most important ways you can honor your loved one's struggle.
- Celebrate the life, rather than focusing on the death. Suicide is tragic and terrible, but it doesn't have to define your loved one's entire life. Instead of focusing on how they died, focus on the wonderful ways they lived.
Work to recognize the things you can handle on your own and those you can't. Asking for help to manage your grief is an important part of taking care of yourself. Talk to a friend, join a support group, or contact your installation's chaplain, Family Support Center, local faith community, or Military OneSource to connect with a non-medical counselor. You don't have to go through this alone.