When most of us think of our parents, we assume they’ll be around for all of life’s important milestones — graduations, weddings, the birth of a child.
Most of us aren’t prepared for the possibility that our parents may not be around to see everything. Losing a loved one, especially a parent, can be a traumatic experience. And losing a parent to suicide can be even more devastating.
You can feel an overwhelming and immediate sense of grief, anger, shame, betrayal, and resentment. You may start to ask yourself questions like, “How could they leave? What were they thinking? Was there something I could’ve done?”
Suicide Loss Is Different than Other Kinds of Death
When you lose a parent to suicide, it’s not the same experience as losing them to an accident or illness. Suicide loss creates more questions than it provides answers.
If there is no note left behind, you’re left wondering why it happened. With an illness, you might be more prepared for the loss, and with an accident, you have an explanation and an outlet for your anger. But with suicide loss, you may question if the decision was personal and wonder what you could have done differently.
These are normal thoughts and feelings to experience. And if you’ve lost a parent to suicide, you’re not alone. Suicide claims the lives of more than 40,000 Americans each year. It’s just something most people don’t speak about aloud because they feel like they need to grieve and process what they’re feeling alone.
The Feelings of Loss and Abandonment
When you lose a parent to suicide, it may feel impossible to grieve because of what you’re feeling. You may feel guilty about questioning their intentions. Did they care about me at all? Why did they choose to leave me behind? Was I not good enough? It’s normal to ask these questions and feel anger towards them for not giving you the answers you needed.
You may even find yourself going into survival mode and just trying your best to get by day-to-day. You may find yourself putting on a brave face for those around you. But keeping your emotions bottled up inside won’t make you feel better and can do more harm. It’s crucial to find a healthy outlet to express everything you’re feeling, even the feelings that are hard to admit out loud.
Trying to Make Sense of Losing Your Parent
Sometimes there are no straightforward answers when it comes to suicide loss, and we often don’t know what is going on with someone beneath the surface. For instance, your parent could have been suffering silently for years. If that were the case, what happened wasn’t a result of anything you did or didn’t do.
While we may want to put the blame somewhere, suicide loss may not have anything to do with any person or event. Instead, it may have to do with what the person was feeling or experiencing that no one else might have known about.
So while there may be a part of you that feels like your parent chose to leave intentionally, they may have felt like they didn’t have a choice at all. While you may not find the exact answers you’re looking for, knowing that there may be other possibilities that led to the loss can help to ease any guilt you may be feeling.
Finding Healthy Ways to Move Forward
It’s always a good idea to talk with a professional counselor if you are struggling to make sense of your feelings after the traumatic loss of a parent. They can help you find ways to cope and outlets to express your emotions, especially when it feels difficult to express everything you’re feeling.
A counselor can give you the tools you need to talk with those around you and deal with questions you’re not ready to answer. This is where you also have the opportunity to address any guilt you’re feeling head-on so you can recognize that you are not responsible for the loss. And you can also talk through any other emotions coming up around the loss so that you can start to heal.
Speaking to a grief counselor can help you work through and overcome your grief so you can move towards the kind of life you ultimately want to lead.
Photo credit: VicTor, Nappy.co