For the last 20 years or so, death by suicide has increased significantly in the United States. This inevitably means more loved ones are left behind, trying to navigate their grief and learn how to cope with their loss.
The grieving process that follows the loss of a loved one is always tricky, but grieving a death resulting from suicide can sometimes be even more difficult.
What is it that makes this type of grief so different? The process looks similar from the outside—confusion, questioning, and anger, but the focus is different, the answers less clear, and the experience more isolating.
When we lose someone to suicide, the trauma involved, the unexpected nature of it, and the suddenness can shake us, confuse us, and change how we process death.
The desire to understand why a loved one has died is common. In some circumstances, the answers are straightforward, and we can find peace in that.
But when you try to understand why your loved one ended their life, the answers are complex and not always attainable. Nevertheless, it’s important to find peace even in the confusion.
You may always have questions, and, in time, it is possible to learn how to be okay with not knowing, even if it feels impossible right now.
In the wake of your grief and during your confusion, you may also face some “survivor’s guilt.” Left unchecked, this can be a roadblock on your path to healing and can lead to spirals of blame and guilt as you wonder—
What did I miss?
What didn’t I see?
What could I have done?
What did I do wrong?
But there is a good reason that we say “hindsight is 20/20”.
It might be easy to see the signs now, but that doesn’t mean they were easy to see then. This line of questioning is a completely justified emotional reaction, but it’s not an accurate or fair assessment of the situation.
Still, the guilt is there, and you’ll need to work through it, just as you work through other elements of grief. You can speak to a therapist or a trusted friend about how these answerless questions make you feel.
It may also help to consider how you were there for or available to your loved one. Write a list if you need to, so you can refer to it during those times when the guilt is really taxing you.
At the end of the day, remember that the decision was not yours, and you are in no way responsible for the death of your loved one.
It’s important to hold onto that truth during your own questioning, but even more so if there are people in your life who are asking insensitive questions or making inappropriate comments.
It’s far easier to say than to do but ignore them. Whether they mean to hurt your feelings or just tend to say the wrong thing, their comments are not comforting but are instead troubling, and you do not have to accept them.
Feelings of anger are also an expected part of the grieving process, though the subject of that anger is different when you’re mourning a suicide.
If your loved one had been murdered, you would very naturally be angry with the murderer. However, in the case of a suicide, the person you’re mourning and the person who took them away are one and the same.
It can be complicated to allow yourself to be angry with your loved one for ending their life while also being sad that they’re gone, but these are legitimate feelings that need to be felt fully.
You may also find that you’re angry with yourself, angry with a broken mental healthcare system, angry with other friends and family, or maybe angry with a higher power.
Honor your anger the same way you honor your sadness, which may help you discover a path toward healing.
One of the reasons that grief in the wake of suicide is different is the way in which we cope with that grief.
Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of stigma around suicide, which can make it difficult for grieving people to reach out for support, while also making it difficult for others to know how to support the bereaved.
Even when you don’t feel understood in your grief, remember that other people out there have gone through this before or are going through it alongside you, and you are not alone.
Alliance of Hope has excellent resources for suicide bereavement— you can find a support group or participate in a forum where you can talk openly and honestly about the pain you’re feeling with people who understand.
Another path through your grief is to arm yourself with knowledge. Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of suicidal ideation and keep resources for support and information at the ready, just in case.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has compiled an extensive list of resources on its website, which includes the following and many more:
And finally, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is now the “Suicide and Crisis Lifeline” and can be accessed nationally by dialing “988”.
Losing a loved one to suicide is a complex, painful experience. One that can heal in time. As you progress in that journey, remember that you are not alone.
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