Even though many of the feelings listed go with any grief event, they are exacerbated in a suicide death. Here’s how a loss by suicide feels for many of us:
- It feels confusing. The coulda, woulda, shouldas play on autopilot in our heads. Trying to talk us out if it invalidates our feelings in the early stages. Active listening is the most important skill.
- We think or say:
- “Didn’t he know how much I loved him?”
- “I thought he loved us. How could he do this?”
- “My brother would never do this. Someone had to have caused this.”
- “Can I still call myself a ‘mother’?”
- “If only it could be me instead.”
- We struggle with the “why?” Why did they kill themselves? Families struggle with unanswered questions that a suicide brings and many times never get answers because they died with our loved one and that takes time to resolve.
- We feel angry. And we are often irrational. We’re mad that our loved one would resort to killing themselves instead of telling us they struggled. There might be anger, for example, that a spouse who took their life left the other to raise the children, manage their grief and all the other financial hardships that follow sudden death and suicide. Surviving spouses sometimes feel like they are “left holding the bag” and feel robbed of their future.
- We are shocked and numb. As a result, we’re scrambled, desperate, and not sleeping well.
- We feel relief. And we feel guilty because of it. Sometimes our loved one suffered addiction, mental illness or both and our lives were chaos as a result. We never wanted to lose our loved one in the way we did there is a feeling of peace from that chaos.
- It feels personal. It feels as though the person who died by suicide did this to us. And it takes a long time to realize it’s not personal but the result of unrelenting despair and that we didn’t have that kind of control over another human being.
- We self-blame. Coulda woulda shouldas are prevalent. It’s a preventable death and we suffer knowing that. Why didn’t we know? How did we miss the now obvious signs? Or how could we be so terrible that our loved one would kill themselves?
- We feel unworthy, unlovable, like awful parents, siblings, friends, neighbors etc. It has a brutal ripple effect.
- There can be a lot of blame and fighting among loved ones. Suicide breeds bitterness. Grandparents, parents, in-laws, brothers, sisters might be denied visitation or custody rights. The death is the husband’s fault, the girlfriend’s fault or the dad’s fault etc. “It’s that boyfriend she was seeing….”
- We feel shame about how that loved one who died as it is surely some reflection on us
- We feel isolated. No one wants to say anything, invite us anywhere, or see us. They don’t want us to talk about it because it makes them uncomfortable. So we feel like pariahs, far more isolated than others suffering loss.
- The religious are more confused and conflicted
- “Is suicide a sin?”
- “Will my loved one go to heaven?”
- “How could God allow my loved one to take his/her own life?”
- How come my prayers weren’t answered?
For those who struggle with their faith, I usually say, “Ask yourself– would a loving God punish someone for a medical event that is the result of temporary mental incapacity?”
I know everyone is different. And how each of us deals with a suicide loss is different.
But knowing some of the complex emotions loss survivors struggle might help you come from a place of greater understanding and lessen the fear of doing or saying the wrong thing.
Many times friends and family will say, “I don’t want to intrude,” or “I might say the wrong thing and make things worse.” But what you are really afraid of is walking into someone else’s tragedy. It feels so big and you might feel your presence wouldn’t mean much. But that’s where you’d be wrong. Your presence does matter and you can admit that you are nervous and don’t know what to say but that you want to take a walk and listen or simple veg out and watch stupid movies.