There’s no one reason why he did what he did. Everyone responds to tragedy in different ways. But it’s never just one stone. It’s a bunch of stones stacked on top of each other. A Million Little Things
Grief is more complicated when we lose a loved one to suicide. In addition to the shock and pain of the loss itself, those who die by suicide may be disparaged while family members are shamed or blamed for the death. Friends may pull away or avoid suicide survivors out of judgment or uncertainty about what to say. Suicide survivors are likely to question themselves — how did I not see this coming? why didn’t I prevent it? if only I had … They are often wracked with guilt about what they did or didn’t do, said or didn’t say. They feel responsible for their loved one’s death while at the same time, they feel abandoned and wounded by the person who died. They may feel cut off from their happier memories, instead questioning whether their deceased loved one really was happy during that time or why they didn’t notice the pain on her face.
To every person who is battling suicide ideation or depression; to every person whose outsides mask a broken heart; to every person consumed by an ache and what may feel like an impenetrable loneliness, know that you are not alone. Know that your pain is not a thing to fear, and that there are those who are here to hold it with you. And know that there is help and that that help has saved the lives of countless people who have been there, too. Chelise Stroud, Lighting Up The Sky
If you or someone you know is at risk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
How can you help a survivor of suicide loss?
- Acknowledge the death. Express your sadness about the loss and offer to be a sympathetic ear. Stay in touch. Be the one who doesn’t walk away.
- Offer specific help. A suicide survivor is in no condition to figure out what help she needs or to muster the energy to ask for it. If you aren’t sure what would be most helpful, drop off an easily frozen meal, provide some choices (e.g., “Can I pick up some groceries for you at Trader Joe’s?”, “Could I come over on Saturday and mow your lawn?”, etc.) or send a gift card for a food delivery service or housecleaning company.
- Be clear about your lack of judgment. You have no idea why a person dies by suicide nor can you understand how much pain she was in. Make it clear to the suicide loss survivor that you are there to be supportive and empathetic. Encourage him to share his sadness, his anger and his fear with you. Suicide survivors don’t need or expect you to fix anything, they just need you to listen.
- Remember their loved one, especially on anniversaries and holidays. Share stories and memories. Tell them how much you love and miss their family member.
Some of our favorite resources for suicide survivors:
- My Son … My Son: A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss or Suicide — written by Iris Bolton and Curtis Mitchell after their 20-year-old son, Mitch, took his own life.
- Voices of Healing and Hope: Conversations on Grief after Suicide — addresses the phases of grief after suicide. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the grief process: Why?, guilt, shame/stigma, anger, emotional/physical pain, fear, depression and faith. More than 25 suicide loss survivors share their poignant stories of trauma, healing and hope (comes with a DVD of the interviews).
- Finding Peace Without All The Pieces — LaRita Archibald leads the reader from the initial trauma of the death by suicide of her twenty-four-year-old son,Kent “through the ragged, brutal and unknown psychological and emotional landscape that must be traversed” to find healing and peace.
- No Time To Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide Of A Loved One — after Carla Fine’s successful young physician husband took his own life, she discovered how hard it can be to speak openly and honestly about the pain. In No Time To Say Goodbye, Fine speaks frankly about her feelings of confusion, guilt, shame, anger and loneliness and offers guidance to other suicide loss survivors who are struggling to make sense of the loss and pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.
- The Cure For Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief — written by Jan Richardson after her husband died of cancer, many of the poems are relevant for suicide loss survivors, too.
- Why a photographer takes photos of suicide survivors — “I’m still here” Joey
- Live Through This — created by photographer and suicide survivor, DeseRae L. Stage, Live Through This is a collection of portraits and true stories of suicide attempt survivors
- How To Save A Life — “I would have stayed up with you all night had I known how to save a life” The Fray
- Please Don’t Go — “With all the life that leaves your bones, it soaks the purpose from my own” Stephanie Rainey
- Why — “You must’ve a been in a place so dark, couldn’t feel the light …” Rascal Flatts
- How Connection Saved My Life — David Woods Bartley shares how connection kept him from taking his own life and how it can save others from the black monster of depression.
- “Care For Suicide Survivors” — Reverend Mary Robin Craig shares what she learned about caring for suicide survivors after her son died by suicide
- “Why You Should Stop Saying ‘Committed Suicide'”
- “Understanding Survivors of Suicide Loss”
- “Are you there, Dad? It’s me, Alice.” — Jessie Glenn’s beautiful essay about caring for her niece after her brother died by suicide and the ways she tried to keep his spirit alive
- “When Someone Takes His Own Life”
- “What to Say (and Not to Say) to Someone Grieving A Suicide”
- “How Could You Abandon Me?”
- “Their Deaths Leave A Gaping Hole”
- “To Cope With My Father’s Suicide, I Had to Learn to Love My Grief”