Coping with the loss of a loved one…
It is estimated that for every suicide, at least six others – family members, close friends, co-workers – are intimately affected and left to survive this terrible loss. They are also left to struggle with the most difficult, painful, and unanswerable question of all, namely, WHY?
Along with their grief, survivors are often stunned and troubled by the other powerful emotions they are experiencing. These emotions include shock, anger, guilt, relief, fear and depression.
SHOCK is often the immediate reaction to suicide, together with physical and emotional numbness. These are the ways of temporarily screening out the pain so that it can be experienced in smaller, more manageable steps.
ANGER is another part of the grief response, whether it is directed toward the deceased, another family member, a therapist, or oneself.
GUILT manifests itself as self-blame as survivors think back to everything they believe they could have said or done differently, to everything they didn’t say or do, and to all of the loose ends left forever untied.
RELIEF may be part of their reaction if the suicide followed either their loved ones long decline into self-destructive behavior, ongoing mental anguish, or prolonged and intense physical pain.
FEAR that it may happen again. The fear that the survivor may take his or her own life.
DEPRESSION may appear as disturbed sleep, fatigue, inability to concentrate, change in appetite, and the feeling that nothing makes life worth living.
Fortunately, these feelings diminish with the passage of time, although some residual feelings remain and some questions remain unanswered.
Strategies for surviving the suicide of a loved one
Maintaining contact with others is particularly important in the stressful months following the suicide of a loved one. Relatives and friends may feel uncomfortable because of the nature of the death and, as a result, be unable, despite their best intentions, to offer you, the survivor, adequate consolation. Take the initiative and talk openly about the suicide and ask them for help. By doing so, you will not only be helping yourself, you will also be helping them. Understand as well that each family member will be grieving in his or her own way.
When you feel ready share with your family and friends your feeling of loss and pain. Understand that each family member may be grieving in his or her own way.
Grieving children experience many of the same feelings – shock, anger, guilt, relief, fear and depression – as adults. Remind them that these emotions are a natural part of the grief process. Remind them as well that they are still loved, by sharing your own similar feelings with them and urging them to share theirs with you.
Anniversaries, birthdays and holidays may be stressful reminders of the suicide. Plan these days to meet the emotional needs of both you and your family.
The following suggestions from “Suicide and Its Aftermath” Beyond Surviving: Suggestions for Survivors were submitted by Iris M. Bolton.
- Know you can survive. You might not think so, but you can.
- Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know “why” or until you are satisfied with partial answers.
- Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings, but all your feelings are normal.
- Remember to take one moment or one day at a time.
- Find a good listener with whom to share. Call someone if you need to talk.
- Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are healing.
- Give yourself time to heal.
- Remember, the choice was not yours. No one is the sole influence in another’s life.
- Expect setbacks. If emotions return like a tidal wave, you may be experiencing a remnant of grief, an unfinished piece.
- Try to put off major decisions.
- Give yourself permission to get professional help.
- Be aware of the pain of your family and friends.
- Be patient with yourself and with others who may not understand.
- Set your own limits and learn to say no.
- Steer clear of people who want to tell you what and how to feel.
- Call on your personal faith to help you through.
- The willingness to laugh with others and at yourself is healing.
- Wear out your questions, anger, guilt and other feelings until you can let them go. Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting.
- Know that you will never be the same again. But you can survive and even go beyond surviving.
FSOS offers emotional support on overcoming the guilt, anger, depression, and fear that follow in the wake of suicide. It helps survivors to understand the past and lighten the way to a new future.