Suicide and Loss

Suicide survivors experience unique grief. For most suicide survivors, the grieving process includes intense feelings of anger, guilt, and shame. The senselessness of suicide confuses survivors and fills them with doubt.

Sometimes, surviving family or friends who cared for or financially supported a persistently mentally ill loved one who dies by suicide might even feel relieved that their responsibility has ended. In these cases, family and friends often feel guilty for feeling relief.

Survivors may experience some or all of these complicated thoughts and emotions, and survivors need special care to cope with these feelings.

Find Support From People Who Love You

A loved one’s suicide can create distance between the survivors and the survivor’s family and friends. Acquaintances often “don’t know what to say” and their discomfort in a situation without social norms can cause friends and family to pull away from the survivor, even when the survivor needs support the most.

Survivors may also feel shamed by this loss and avoid seeking support they need. Iris Bolton, a psychotherapist whose twenty year old son committed suicide, says:

“You are not alone. There are currently 30,000 suicides annually in the USA. It is estimated that for every suicide there are 6 survivors. Based on this estimate, it has been suggested that there are now at least 4.5 million American survivors of suicide.”

Friends and family struggle to make sense of the suicide of someone they dearly loved. Suicide experts caution that survivors may never be able to understand the event. Edwin Schneidman, a psychologist who has participated in pioneering work in suicide prevention and survivorship describes the suicidal person as having a “perturbed mind” that is so unsettled that the person thinks death is the only answer to their problems.

Caring Connections: A Hope and Comfort in Grief Program is sponsored by the University of Utah College of Nursing. Caring Connections offers a variety of grief support groups throughout the year, each tailored to a specific kind of loss. The groups are eight weeks in length and are facilitated by expert clinicians in the fields of social work, nursing, counseling and pastoral care. Group size is kept small to allow each person to fully participate in the group discussion. The focus of the groups is on “adjusting to the death of a family member or close friend”. Through education and support from group leaders, and by sharing with others experiencing grief, we hope participants will grow in their journey through grief. Please call 801-585-9922 for information on dates and locations.

Beyond Surviving

Suggestions for Survivors

Iris M. Bolton Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know “why” or until you are satisfied with a partial answer. Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings. All your feelings are normal. Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy,you are in mourning. REMEMBER, NO ONE IS THE SOLE INFLUENCE IN ANOTHER’S LIFE. It’s okay to grieve. The death of a loved one is a reluctant and drastic amputation, without any anesthesia. The pain cannot be described, and no scale can measure the loss. We despise the truth that the death cannot be reversed, and that somehow our dear one returned. Such hurt!! It’s okay to grieve.

It’s okay to cry. Tears release the flood of sorrow, of missing and of love. Tears relieve the brute force of hurting, enabling us to “level off” and continue our cruise along the stream of life. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to heal. We do not need to “prove” we loved him or her. As the months pass, we are slowly able to move around with less outward grieving each day. We need not feel “guilty,” for this is not an indication that we love less. It means that, although we don’t like it, we are learning to accept death. It’s a healthy sign of healing. It’s okay to heal. It’s okay to laugh. Laughter is not a sign of “less” grief. Laughter is not a sign of “less” love. It’s a sign that many of our thoughts and memories are happy ones. It’s a sign that we know our dear one would have us laugh again. It’s okay to laugh. “What we have once enjoyed and deeply loved, we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” Helen Keller

Survivors of Suicide

  1. Know you can survive. You may not think so, but you can.
  2. Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know “why” or until you are satisfied with partial answers.
  3. Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings but all your feelings are normal.
  4. Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy, you are in mourning.
  5. Be aware you may feel appropriate anger at the person, at the world, at God, at yourself. It’s okay to express it.
  6. You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do. Guilt can turn into regret, through forgiveness.
  7. Having suicidal thoughts is common. It does not mean that you will act on those thoughts.
  8. Remember to take one moment or one day at a time.
  9. Find a good listener with whom to share. Call someone if you need to talk.
  10. Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are healing.
  11. Give yourself time to heal.
  12. Remember, the choice was not yours. No one is the sole influence in another’s life.
  13. Expect setbacks. If emotions return like a tidal wave, you may only be experiencing a remnant of grief, an unfinished piece.
  14. Try to put off major decisions.
  15. Give yourself permission to get professional help.
  16. Be aware of the pain of your family and friends.
  17. Be patient with yourself and others who may not understand.
  18. Set your own limits and learn to say no.
  19. Steer clear of people who want to tell you what or how to feel.
  20. Know that there are support groups that can be helpful, such as Compassionate Friends or Survivors of Suicide groups. If not, ask a professional to start one.
  21. Call on your personal faith to help you through.
  22. It is common to experience physical reactions to your grief, e.g., headaches, loss of appetite, and an inability to sleep.
  23. The willingness to laugh with others and at yourself is healing.
  24. Talk out your questions, anger, guilt, or other feelings until you can let them go. Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.
  25. Know that you will never be the same again, but you can survive and even go beyond just surviving.

Reprinted with permission from, Suicide and its aftermath. Dunne E., McIntosh, J. and Dunne-Maxim, K., 1987