Suicide GriefWhen someone you love dies by suicide: The Unique Aspects of Suicide Grief
Has someone you loved ended their own life by suicide?
Your whole world may feel like it is collapsing underneath you. Nothing makes sense anymore. Losing someone to suicide can shatter your world.
It is likely you are experiencing a desperate search for answers. You may be feeling abandoned and isolated, and struggling with overwhelming confusion, self blame, rage and guilt.
You might also be dealing with the traumatic experience of witnessing a violent death, or finding the body, and dealing with police.
It can be hard to understand how a friend or loved one could have taken their own life.
A suicide can bring up all kinds of questions and feelings that surprise you. Even if the suicide was 20 years ago, some common themes of pain may have remained for you, coloring other relationships, and altering beliefs about yourself and the world.
Suicide Grief can be very different from anything you’ve experienced before. Unlike other losses, unique feelings and questions flood the survivors.
Not only do you have common grief responses, you may also be experiencing other, stronger debilitating reactions to a death from suicide such as:
- symptoms of post traumatic stress
- not just anger, but long lasting rage
- a deep and incessant feeling of guilt
- feelings of abandonment and isolation
Finding or witnessing a horrific, gruesome scene of self-inflicted violence probably paralyzed you initially with shock and disbelief. It may have taken some time to call 911 – a delay that you might now be feeling guilty about. Then, you may have been put through quite an ordeal by police investigators, leaving you feeling like a victim yourself. Your visual memory of the violent death itself, and the interactions with law enforcement have likely intensified the traumatic impact and compounded your grief.
If you are experiencing symptoms of trauma such as:
- prolonged mental disorientation and shock
- flashbacks of what you saw
- feelings of physical and emotional numbness
- feeling like everything is unreal
- being hyper vigilant for more bad things to happen
- having intrusive thoughts about others’ deaths
I can help.
These post traumatic feelings are similar to those who survive horrific accidents or disasters. You might be feeling a kind of survivor’s guilt. Or since the suicide, you could be going through the spiritual crisis of doubting all previously held beliefs, and feeling like life just doesn’t make sense any more.
There are ways to reduce the frequency and duration of these feelings, and suicide grief counseling can make a big difference.
Consumed by Feelings of Rage?
Also complicating your grief may be overwhelming rage at your loved one who has committed suicide, or anger with yourself, or at this unfathomable loss. It may be an anger like nothing you’ve felt before, and it might frighten you to experience what you may never have thought yourself capable of feeling.
You may be chastising yourself for feeling what you think is an inappropriate emotion.
How could rage and grief co-exist, you might wonder?
The reality is that it is common to feel angry when someone you love leaves you, through death or another reason. And it’s also common to feel rage when we believe that loss could have been prevented, if we had only known.
When someone takes their life and you were not even aware of the deep pain they were in, you can be left feeling somehow betrayed as well as hurt and confused. You might wonder why they didn’t trust you to know how bad the suffering was for them. You may not understand why they didn’t think you could help them feel better. It’s as if the deceased had an internal life you knew nothing about, and they kept such an important part of themselves from you. And that can feel like a profound betrayal.
Unending Self Doubts
You may be plagued with needing to know why they didn’t confide in you, or get help. A part of you may believe you could have or should have known and been able to prevent the suicide. Subconsciously you may start to blame yourself for their actions, but consciously you are just so angry that they didn’t give you the chance to fix what was wrong. You may not want to admit it to yourself, but you might feel cheated out of the opportunity to make a difference. That sense of feeling cheated can fuel your rage.
I can help you deal with the tidal wave of emotions that can feel inappropriate and frightening, especially when mixed in with grief and guilt. If you are in such an emotional storm that you don’t know what to think, how to feel, or what to do, counseling is a safe haven that helps put all these painful emotions into perspective after such a traumatic loss.
A Lingering Sense of Guilt?
Since the suicide you might be feeling consumed with guilt. Maybe you are stuck in ruminating on how having missed the signs that your loved one was suffering so much that they were thinking about ending it all.
But the reality is that there may have been no signs that you would have recognized. Many people who complete a suicide keep both their anguish and their plans to themselves. For some, just having a plan can bring a measure of relief, and outwardly they can seem like they are doing well. Those contemplating suicide can be quite proficient at self-deception or hiding their innermost feelings from you, showing no signs at all that the next emotional stressor will be the last.
You might be feeling tortured by all the what if questions – why didn’t I stop them, what did I miss, why didn’t I insist on professional help, etc. You could be telling yourself that you could have saved them. If guilt is all you can feel, I want to help you understand that the suicide was not your fault.
Feeling Abandoned and Isolated in Suicide Grief?
Maybe your loved one or friend had made previous suicide attempts. If so, you might have been fearful that they would try again. They did, and while you may have some guilt about it not being entirely a surprise, you could also be feeling abandoned in one or more of these ways:
- that the deceased willingly chose to leave you in the most permanent way possible
- from the internal heartache that you were denied the chance to say goodbye
- from feeling rejected by society that can seem unable to fully comprehend the idea, or the pain of suicide.
- The aftermath of the suicide may have left you reeling, with ongoing struggles to accept that your loved one or
- friend not only chose to end their life, but made a decision to leave you in such a dramatic way.
Perhaps you’ve read or talked with others and learned that people who commit suicide are in such deep pain, feeling such desperation for relief and release, that their decision to end their life did not factor in how their families and friends would feel. The decision to take their life seemed like their only escape from unrelenting suffering, and the hopelessness of believing that no one and nothing but death could help.
The fear of being blamed or listening to clueless comments from insensitive and unknowledgeable others may be causing you to withdraw socially. It’s understandable, but feeling alone in grief can make the grieving more painful.
For some, there may be such a stigma around suicide that you may want to keep it a secret. You may feel forced to lie or hide the cause of your loved one’s death when you sense that others won’t get it, or when you expect them to say stupid things. At some point in your own healing from your grief, you may want to tell the whole story, as a small step in reducing the stigma.
There is no timeline or easy resolution towards healing after a suicide. Before you can even begin to grieve, you have to process the trauma around the circumstances of the death. It can be a tremendous struggle to separate the horrific aspects of the death of your loved one from the memories and feelings that you want to preserve — a connection to the positive, loving legacy of their life.
Healing from this devastating loss involves gradually learning to live with all the unanswered questions and finding meaning in both your loss and your loved ones life.
You can do this, and I’ll be with you every step of the journey.
If someone you loved has ended their own life by suicide and you’re finding it overwhelming to make sense of it, I’m here to help.
Barbara Fane, LCSW, BCD
Click here to read more about the emotions after a suicide loss Causes of Guilt and Shame After Suicide