Grief After Suicide

If you want to help a friend or family member who has experienced the death of someone loved from suicide, this information will guide you in ways to turn your cares and concerns into positive action.

Accept the Intensity of the Grief
Grief following a suicide is always complex. Survivors don't "get over it." Instead, with support and understanding, they can come to reconcile themselves to its reality. Don't be surprised by the intensity of their feelings.

Listen with Your Heart
Assisting suicide survivors means you must break down the terribly costly silence. Helping begins with your ability to be an active listener. Your physical presence and desire to listen without judgment are critical helping tools. Willingness to listen is the best way to offer help to someone who needs to talk.

Avoid Simplistic Explanations and Clichés
Comments like, "You are holding up so well," "Time will heal all wounds," "Think of what you still have to be thankful for" or "You have to be strong for others" are not constructive. Instead, they hurt and make a friend's journey through grief more difficult.

Don't make the mistake of saying the person who suicided was "out of his or her mind." Informing a survivor that someone they loved was "crazy or insane" typically only complicates the situation. Suicide survivors need help in coming to their own search for understanding of what has happened. In the end, their personal search for meaning and understanding of the death is what is really important.

Be Compassionate
Give your friend permission to express his or her feelings without fear of criticism. Learn from your friend. Don't instruct or set explanations about how he or she should respond. Never say, "I know just how you feel." You don't. Think about your helping role as someone who "walks with," not "behind" or "in front of" the one who is bereaved.

Respect the Need to Grieve
Often ignored in their grief are the parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, spouses and children of persons who have suicided. Why? Because of the nature of the death, it is sometimes kept a secret. If the death cannot be talked about openly, the wounds of grief will go unhealed.

Understand the Uniqueness of Suicide Grief
Keep in mind that the grief of suicide survivors is unique. No one will respond to the death of someone loved in exactly the same way. While it may be possible to talk about similar phases shared by survivors, everyone is different and shaped by experiences in his or her life.

Be Aware of Holidays and Anniversaries
Survivors of suicide may have a difficult time during special occasions like holidays and anniversaries. Respect this pain as a natural expression of the grief process. Learn from it. And, most importantly, never try to take the hurt away.

Use the name of the person who has died when talking to survivors. Hearing the name can be comforting and it confirms that you have not forgotten this important person who was so much a part of their lives.

Be Aware of Support Groups
Support groups are one of the best ways to help survivors of suicide. In a group, survivors can connect with other people who share the commonality of the experience. They are allowed and encouraged to tell their stories as much, and as often, as they like. You may be able to help survivors locate such a group. This practical effort on your part will be appreciated.

Respect Faith and Spirituality
If you allow them, a survivor of suicide will "teach you" about their feelings regarding faith and spirituality. If faith is a part of their lives, let them express it in ways that seem appropriate.

Work Together as Helpers
Friends and family who experience the death of someone to suicide must no longer suffer alone and in silence. As helpers, you need to join with other caring persons to provide support and acceptance for survivors who need to grieve in healthy ways.

~Adapted from an Article by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.