When Someone Close to You Has Committed Suicide

The death of a loved one can be traumatic but when your loved one has taken their own life, the intensity of your grief can be severe.  Your sense of reality may be destroyed and disbelief can overwhelm you as you search for answers to why and try to cope with the death of your loved one.  You may feel out of control as you as you realize that you will never know the answer to that question.

Health professionals will tell you that your loved one was looking for a way out of feelings of hopelessness and fears.  They may have been embarrassed to tell you about feelings of inadequacy or the inability to handle certain situations.  In spite of family life, support of friends or belief systems, those who choose to end their lives are just looking for a way out of their pain.  John Hewett, author of After Suicide writes that most people who kill themselves are not choosing to die, they just want to end their anguish and pain and, whether you believe it or not, you could not have stopped them once they committed to their plan.

What Does Grief Feel Like?

Grief is a process that is a physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological response.  Feelings of numbness and unanswered questions can add to your pain and confusion.  The shock, which initially protected you, gives way to frustration, fear, anger or pain.

Grief may come in “waves”.  You may feel “frozen inside” and exhausted.  You may not be able to concentrate or remember things.  Anger and guilt are common emotions.  You may feel angry with God, other family members, yourself or the person who died.  It doesn’t have to make sense to feel real.  The “if onlys” and the “should haves” can cause pain and doubt as you realize no one can retrace the steps and change what has already happened.

Depression or feelings of emptiness may temporarily overwhelm you.  Headaches, tightness in the throat or chest, muscle aches or a burning sensation in your stomach, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, irritability, or crying are all a part of grief.  Grief hurts!

Anger can turn to rage as you wrestle with the unfairness and unanswered questions that seem to multiply.  You may be angry with your loved one because you feel you were robbed of the opportunity to help, to listen, to get your questions answered, to do something or to say good-bye.  You may feel cheated, betrayed or helpless.

You may be consumed with guilt that you were unable to help your loved one or didn’t even know something was wrong.  You may feel as though you are sliding into despair.  Blame and doubt become constant companions.

Grief can be isolating because no one knows what to say to you or how to act.  You may feel embarrassed or ashamed of the way your loved one died and may not even be able to talk about the death to anyone.  You may decide it is easier to be alone or not let anyone get too close.  At a time when you really need support, it is often difficult to ask for it.

What Can I Do Now?

Acknowledge your loss and begin to accept the pain of grief.  Don’t try to lessen the pain of grief with medications, drugs or alcohol.  Drugs may stop or delay the necessary grieving process.  Learn to work through the hurt rather than mask it.

Share your thoughts and feelings by talking with others.  Keeping a journal helps.  It may help to find a support group.  Ask your clergy, funeral director, or mental health professional for referrals.  You do not have to do this alone.

Tell family and friends what you need.  Keep the lines of communication open.  No one can read your mind.  They want to help, but may not know how.  Be specific in requesting help.  Tell them it is okay to talk about your loved one, to say his name and to share memories with you.

Take care of yourself physically.  Grief places tremendous stress on your body.  Even if you feel tired and overwhelmed, try to exercise.  Stretching exercises or short walks can do a lot to relieve the stress so you can recharge your batteries.  Watch out for complex carbohydrates like donuts, cake and cookies, instead try yogurt, cheese or peanut butter and crackers.  Try small frequent snacks instead of big meals.  Limit your caffeine and drink plenty of water.  Try taking several rest breaks during the day.  They will give you energy especially if you are having difficulty sleeping.

Take time about doing anything with your loved one’s belongings.  Do not allow others to rush you, or to take over.  You can do whatever you wish, a little at a time.  You might want to consider sharing some of the special things with friends or family.  They will be precious gifts.

People who don’t know what to say may avoid you or may say hurtful things in their attempts to help.  Unexpected support may come from others who were not previously close.

Re-establish your connections with your faith, if possible.  Find a compassionate member of the clergy to talk with about the spiritual, religious and social stigmas of suicide.  It is possible to learn to live with the unanswered questions that suicide raises, but you don’t have to search for inner peace alone.

Don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek help.  It is a sign of strength that you can reach out to take care of yourself.

Your loved one has died.  You may feel consumed by the details and the circumstances of the death for a very long time.  It is easy to focus on how your loved one died, rather than how he lived his life.  When your heart feels heavy with grief, lighten the pain with memories of the life and love you shared.  Do the things that help you remember the life, not just the death.  Make a scrapbook; write down memories in a journal or record stories on tape.  Write a letter to your loved one and forgive him for dying.  Work to forgive yourself for living.

You don’t stop loving someone just because they died.  It is acknowledging and living the pain of grief that brings forth the energy and strength to allow hope and healing to return.