Bereavement is difficult whatever the circumstances. But losing someone to suicide can make grief even more complicated.
The truth about losing someone to suicide
Grief is often talked about in metaphors. It is said to be like waves — you never know if it will be a day with big waves, or small ones. Others talk about it as a rollercoaster.
And then there are the ‘five stages of grief’ made famous by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler Ross. Not everyone goes through all stages after losing someone, and the order can be different for one person than another. Or you can cycle back through the stages, which are:
Regular grief vs grief when losing someone to suicide
Suicide also complicates the grieving process. A guide to navigating loss via suicide put out by the NHS calls it, ‘grief with the volume turned up’.
The ‘waves’ can be a tsunami. Anger can be even bigger, and this way of losing someone adds what can feel other ‘stages’, such as guilt, confusion, and feelings of abandonment.
It’s okay to be angry
We can be angry at the person we lost for what can seem to us a selfish decision. And then we can be angry at everyone who could have tried to stop them, or angry at their therapist, or angry at fate for each tiny moment where things could have gone differently and ended with a different result.
And then finally we can end up angry at ourselves. Which feeds into the next point.
The guilt stage
When we lose someone to suicide, particularly if it is a partner, child, other family member, or very close friend? When the anger dies down there can be guilt. What if we could have done more to help? Why didn’t we do this, or that?
**If you at any point feel so upset you actually consider suicide yourself, please reach out for help immediately. Call the Good Samaritans on 116 123, or another helpline of your choice (see our list here). If you feel you are in real danger, call emergency services or go to the nearest A&E.
Then comes the confusion
Death is confusing to start with. But if we did not see a suicide coming, we can replay things again and again in our mind in an attempt to understand.
We logically know that people are complicated. We aren’t endlessly trying to understand the people still around us.
But we can now want desperately to understand the person who took themselves willingly away from us, as if they are a puzzle there is suddenly one answer to and it’s our responsibility to solve it. It can even become obsessional for a bit, as we try to find our way forward through bereavement.
Rejection and abandonment
Another grief experience more unique to those going through losing a loved one to suicide is experiencing a sense of being abandoned. It can also trigger and build on any past experiences of being rejected.
You might find yourself asking questions such as, “If they really loved me, how could they?”. Why would the leave me like this?” “How could they abandon our children?”.
Grief groups can backfire
Grief groups are very helpful for many people.
But if you have lost someone to suicide it’s possible that you might feel, particularly if your loss is very fresh, that others who have lost someone to a natural death, or accident, or illness? Simply don’t understand how you feel.
You might even feel ashamed somehow that your loved one took their life. Even if you know it’s not logical or true, suicide can feel a ‘dirty secret’.
Stigma can sadly still happen
Yes, here in the Western world, advances have been made around dismantling mental health stigma.
But not everyone is yet comfortable talking about mental health, particularly suicide. This can be affected by things like culture and religion. And note that in some countries committing suicide is even still classified as a criminal act.
People you thought were reliable might let you down on this front. Colleagues you liked might avoid you despite best intentions, not knowing what to say. And you yourself might even have negative views on it.
So how are you supposed to navigate not just the wild ride of grief and bereavement, but the fact that someone you loved willingly took their own life?
1. Connect with people who DO understand losing someone to suicide.
Why does this matter? Because much like you might have experienced reading this article, when we connect with others who understand, we feel a little less alone with the grief. We are a little less lost in it.
Find forums, online support groups for those who have lost people to suicide, and support groups that have this focus.
There are also charities set up to help those who experiencing loss from suicide, such as “Facing the Future”, an initiative by the Samaritans and Cruse Bereavement Care .
2. Accept that others who were also close to the person might not grieve the same way as you.
It can be hard if the very person you’d hope would understand, as they were also involved with the person you lost, have instead reacted to their grief by cutting everyone out, or pretending everything is fine.
Even someone you were very close to, like a sibling, can be acting like a stranger.
Grief is a very personal experience. And everyone gets through it in their own way, in their own time.
3. Try to forgive people for senseless questions and trite advice.
You might want to scream the next time a person asks, “How are you doing?” And it might seem that everyone has ‘advice‘ over what you should and shouldn’t do when it comes to grieving, even if they have never gone through it themselves.
Try to remember that they have good intentions and often they are doing their best. But are nervous they will say the wrong thing — and then do. If it’s too much, just ask for space. Most people understand this request.
4. Find an outlet for your emotions.
Grief outlets can be the last thing you expected. You might suddenly like running, or find yourself furiously deep cleaning the house, or digging holes in the vegetable garden. Writing things then ripping up the paper works for some people.
As long as it doesn’t do more harm than help (alcohol and overeating, for example, can just lead to more guilt and exhaustion), let yourself have the space to emote.
5. Don’t feel bad if some days you feel good.
Sometimes, even after a day where you felt the worse of all, you might suddenly feel okay. Happy, even. It’s normal and okay. You are still here, living your life.
6. Accept that you can’t control grief.
Grief doesn’t work to a timeline. It doesn’t even make sense half the time. And trying to ‘just get over it’, or ‘not cry anymore’, or ‘stop being angry’? Can just mean that the highs and lows get worse.
7. Learn more about suicide if it helps.
Some people feel better doing research on the topic. Research studies, science, or reading personal experiences of suicidal thinking helps them understand the person they’ve lost, and feel less abandoned or guilty.
Is it time to seek professional help?
Grief counselling is always recommended, but particularly when it comes to loss via suicide. If you don’t have anyone you feel comfortable talking to, or everyone you usually talk too is too invested in things? A professional grief counsellor not only will completely understand, they will not have judgements or expectations. It’s a weekly window you can say anything in safety.
Ready to talk to someone about what you’re going through? We connect you with highly experienced London bereavement counsellors. Or use our booking platform to find UK-wide and via the internet grief counselling.
Still have questions about losing someone to suicide? Or want to share your experience with other readers? Post in the comments box below.