Bereavement

"Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted."  Matthew 5:4

 

Support After Suicide

 

When someone close to you dies by suicide you will experience the normal emotions associated with the grief process as well as challenges unique to that type of loss. The following reactions are common among suicide survivors:

 

Shame: There is still a stigma associated with suicide in our society. It may be difficult for us to openly talk about what happened. When we do not talk openly, we tend to suppress feelings and this takes a great deal of emotional energy. There might be media attention around the suicide, and our private lives are suddenly on public display.

 

Guilt: If we try hard enough, we can find a thousand ways to blame ourselves for the death. We may interpret the suicide as a statement that we or others failed the deceased. We may feel that others are judging our competency as a spouse, parent, etc.

 

Anger: We may be angry about the choice the suicide victim made, and we might be angry about the method chosen. If we or someone we care about found the body, we could be angry about that. The death may make us feel that someone else's action or inaction contributed to the suicide. It is confusing to feel anger at a dead person, and we may feel guilty about our anger.

 

Fear and Anxiety: We may be afraid of our own self-destructive impulses. We may fear that our family is marked somehow. We may feel generally vulnerable and wonder if we could survive anything else bad happening.

 

Depression: Depressed feelings are a normal reaction to loss. When someone close dies by suicide, survivors experience feelings of anger, guilt, and helplessness, which in combination can produce deep depression. When we interpret a loved one's suicide as a personal rejection, our feelings of depression and despair are heightened.

 

Ambivalence: We may find some relief in the death and wonder if we should be feeling that way. Our relationship with the deceased person may have been strained or filled with tension and hurt for many years. If the deceased had a long history of self-destructiveness, we may have been exhausted emotionally by the time an attempt was completed.

 

Scapegoating: Survivors sometimes blame one or more persons for the death. This can be a way we try to redirect anger from the deceased or ourselves. If we direct a lot of energy outward, we sometimes temporarily avoid the deep inner grief feelings.

 

Re-experiencing the trauma: Severely traumatized persons usually experience a set of reactions called posttraumatic stress. Recurring vivid recollections, powerfully disturbing dreams, and the feeling that we are re-experiencing the traumatic event are part of this.

 

Isolation: Feelings of shame, guilt, and anger may make it difficult for us to talk about our loss. We may feel safest seeking out a support group of other suicide survivors, or talking with someone who has had a similar experience.

 

Suggested Readings:

 

My Son, My Son..., by Iris Bolton (Bolton Press, 1983)- A mother’s sensitive first person account of her son’s suicide

 

Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide, by Christopher Lukas and Henry M. Seiden, Ph.D. (Bantam Books, 1987)- A very complete and helpful book on what to expect and how to recover when a loved one has died by suicide.

 

Written by Kansas City Hospice