Every disease doesn’t always solely affect the individual diagnosed with it; it can also impact that person’s complete circle of family and friends. The same is true when someone dies by suicide – a very conservative estimate counts six survivors left behind for every death resulting in suicide.
While suicide of a loved one can happen quickly and for many survivors of suicide loss, seemingly out of the blue, the ramifications for those of us left behind can reverberate a deep pain in our hearts for our entire lives.
Many of the emotions and challenges faced by suicide loss survivors are similar to those grieving unexpected or violent deaths. But our mourning process can be complicated further by feelings such as shame, guilt, and infiltration of thoughts about why our loved ones died in the way they died.
The consequence of these additional components can mean grief lasts longer and is more acute than what is “standard.” Processing the emotions resulting from being a survivor of suicide loss can result in our own experience of depression and post-traumatic stress.
Now let’s talk about stigma. Time helped me get to the place where I could freely discuss my experience of being a suicide loss survivor. My father, David, died twenty years ago, and I miss him daily. It took me a few years before I could talk with people who were not my dearest friends and confidantes about my father’s death.
On those rare occasions that I broke my own rule, I quickly regretted it. For one, some people – not all – had strong opinions about him taking his own life, and I couldn’t handle it. Or, they asked for information that I could not verbalize at the time because it made his death real – I couldn’t take that either.
As I worked through my own shock and heartbreak with the aid of therapy and some pretty remarkable friends, I practiced releasing my reluctance to tell people the cause of my father’s death. Through that process, I found that I was not alone in being a survivor of suicide loss and that many others have lost a loved one to suicide, too.
That is why events that bring awareness, such as the International Survivor of Suicide Loss Day, are essential; they allow people to access tools & resources of support, connect with other survivors of suicide loss, and create hope through shared experiences.
Despite the COVID-19 restrictions that many of us are experiencing as I write this message, please know that therapy services are available virtually. If you are a survivor of suicide loss, please consider signing up for therapy through a virtual platform like TalkSpace, BetterHelp or Teladoc. Another idea for those of you who have insurance, please contact your healthcare company to ask for a list of mental health/behavioral health providers that you can meet online.
Below are tips for those of you who love someone who is a survivor of suicide loss and want to learn more ways to be of support to them, as well as information for those of you who are survivors of suicide loss:
Tips for supporting a survivor of suicide loss from the AFSP.ORG website:
- Don’t be afraid to tell your loved one that you don’t know what to say, but you are there to listen if they want to talk.
- Do your best to not place value judgments on suicide. No, our loved one wasn’t ‘weak,’ didn’t love us any less, nor were they a ‘coward.’ They were in pain, and their pain was unbearable for them.
- Be patient. Healing after a loved one dying by suicide is a lifelong process filled with complexity and various emotions.
For more helpful tips, check out the resource page for The International Survivor of Suicide Loss Day on the AFSP.org website.
Tips for feeling supported as a suicide loss survivor from the AFSP.org website:
- Consider attending a Suicide Loss Survivor’s event to help you connect with others who have a similar experience.
- Consider researching resources specific to a suicide loss survivor’s experience. Doing so will help you feel validated and realize that your unique experience makes sense.
- Practice giving yourself space to grieve. I know it sucks, and it is painful beyond measure. Embrace crying – it washes away some of the pain.
And here are a couple of resources to help you along the journey:
If you or someone you know is thinking about dying by suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255. If you have questions for me or would like to share your experience of being a suicide loss survivor, email me at [email protected]
Thank you for reading, until next time, peace …