Dealing with a loss due to suicide can be devastating. When someone you care about has died in this way, it has its own particular element of shock to it. That shock can sometimes complicate the grieving process. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that there is no specific way to feel when something like this happens. Whatever you are feeling is valid and shouldn’t be suppressed.
In this article, we will discuss the implications of coping with a suicide, including the ways in which suicide is different from other types of loss, the emotions you may go through following the suicide of a loved one, and potential warning signs leading up to a suicide occurring. We’ll also dive into the various ways to cope, how you can help someone else cope with the suicide of someone they cared about, and more. Keep reading to find out more about loss due to suicide.
What Is A "Suicide Survivor"?
A “suicide survivor” is someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one due to suicide. This could be a friend or a family member. According to an article on Harvard Health Publishing by Harvard Women’s Health Watch, people who take their own lives do leave behind a trail of suicide survivors in their wake.
“Each person who dies by suicide leaves behind an estimated six or more “suicide survivors” — people who’ve lost someone they care about deeply and are left grieving and struggling to understand,” the article states.
Every grieving process following the death of a loved one can be painful and challenging, but suicide presents struggles like no other kind of loss.
What makes the loss due to suicide different from a loss by natural death?
Obviously, being a suicide survivor can be a painful and confusing time. Losing a loved one is one of the hardest experiences to go through in life. There are specific reasons, however, that surviving a suicide can be such a daunting process and can set it apart from natural death—and any other type of loss. Read some of the most common reasons loss due to suicide is uniquely challenging, listed below.
One reason is that suicide survivors are often reluctant to tell people their loved one took their own life. It can be a very tough thing to talk about out loud. Therefore, it tends to be more difficult for suicide survivors to get help for the feelings they might be struggling with.
Additionally, there is a definite stigma regarding suicide. It’s a topic people find challenging to discuss, and they often feel a need to protect the reputation of the deceased. They may feel that suicide is shameful. This is especially true when people are highly religious, since suicide is considered a sin in religious text.
Suicide is also quite sudden and unexpected by nature. This can make processing the aftermath of the loss more complicated. It can take some time to get past the shock, and potentially a longer amount of time spent in the denial stage of grief.
Another reason suicide is harder to grieve than other types of loss is that it sometimes occurs by a violent death. People often struggle to cope with thoughts of their loved one’s final moments. Thinking of their lives ending in such a way can be very tough to fathom.
What emotions do you go through after losing someone to suicide?
Suicide grief is unlike any other. It can inflict complicated emotions, such as intense guilt, shame, a sense of rejection, and much more. These feelings can often be more intense than they would for another kind of loss.
This feeling can come with disbelief and emotional numbness as well. You might struggle to accept that your loved one's suicide could actually be real.
This is a common emotion people struggle with as suicide survivors. Guilt can pop up for many reasons, but often, they beat themselves up for not realizing that that their loved one was struggling. They might wonder whether they were checking on them enough, whether they offered a listening ear when it was needed, etc.
EXHAUSTION OR FATIGUE
While not an emotion, this is a potential feeling you might have when reeling from the loss of your loved one to suicide.
This is another typical emotion for those dealing with a loved one’s suicide—they will often feel ashamed because they may worry that they weren’t there for them to help give them a desire to keep on living. They may also feel ashamed that their loved one took their life in this way, due the stigma suicide has within our society.
Many suicide survivors will also experience a feeling of anger. Their anger and frustration will often stem from the thought that their loved one didn’t ask for help when they really needed it.
'WHAT IF' SYNDROME
It can be hard to ignore all the ‘what if’s’ that may come into mind following a friend or family member’s death. Playing these scenarios out in one’s head can lead to endless questions that might even prolong the process of grieving. Some examples of ‘what if’s’ that could fill someone’s mind are…
- What if I had seen the signs earlier?
- What if I had taken them to the doctor sooner?
- What if they just needed someone to talk to?
- What if I hadn’t been so busy?
- What if it was something I did wrong to have caused this?
This is a prominent emotion people who have known someone to commit suicide experience. The truth is painful, so they inevitably avoid accepting it. This can go on to the point of making the grieving process more challenging—although it’s important to note that each person is different and processes things in their own way. A suicide survivor might:
- Refuse to accept that their loved one did kill themself
- Feel a sense of rejection as well. Survivors of a suicide might feel the sting of rejection at the fact that their love wasn’t enough to keep them from killing themselves.
What Can You Expect After A Suicide?
Every person grieves differently and it is challenging to know exactly what the response will be when a loved one commits suicide. However, there are a few things that are commonplace with most suicide survivors.
Powerful emotions from you and from those who were close to the deceased. Unlike in a homicide, the victim is also the perpetrator, so it brings a clash of emotions. Some of these might be mixed and confusing emotions, such as anger, rejection, abandonment, shame and many more.
Recurring thoughts can also become overwhelming. You might struggle to stop yourself from thinking about your loved one’s final moments. You can also develop suicide PTSD, but getting treatment for it will keep it from becoming chronic.
Some people may not reach out to you because they don’t know how to deal with suicide or have any knowledge of how to help. As a result, you may feel isolated and alone.
LIMITED DEATH RITUALS
Many religions condemn suicide as a sin, so it may limit the traditional death rituals. Look into this by checking with your local churches. Not all churches still enact this tradition, so you might still be able to find one willing to carry out the traditional rituals.
You might also want to be prepared for painful reminders that could pop up as you move through the grieving stages. This is normal for grieving, but may be more difficult with suicide loss.
KNOW WHEN TO GET HELP
It’s also important to be aware of when it’s time to seek professional help. There’s no reason you should suffer alone—be ready to reach out when you feel that you need to.
Suicide, Self-Sabotage & Warning Signs
When someone is suicidal, there are more often than not various warning signs that you can try to spot. Many people who are thinking of taking their own life will actually leave signals for others to notice, according to the author of this article on Healthline, “5 Things Suicide Loss Survivors Should Know — from Someone Who’s Attempted”.
The author, Sam Dylan Finch, goes into detail about the unconscious sabotaging that attempters will sometimes do with their own plans. “This is also why some of us (often unconsciously) sabotage our own attempts. We might choose a time or place when it’s possible that we’ll be discovered. We might drop hints about our mental state that are nearly undetectable to others. We might choose a method that isn’t reliable.”
SUICIDE WARNINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR
In this way, it can give those around an attempter an opportunity to see the signs. “Even for those who meticulously planned and appeared very committed to killing themselves, they are — in a way — sabotaging themselves. The longer we take to plan, the more we leave open the possibility of an intervention or slipup,” Finch explains. “We desperately want peace and ease, which is really the only thing we are sure of.”
Read the below list of suicide warning signs you might be able to pick up from someone close to you who might be planning on taking their own life. If you notice these signs, make sure to help them get connected with someone who can help them out.
- Severe sadness or moodiness and withdrawal from everyday life
- Problems with sleeping, or sleeping too much, talking of feeling hopeless or that they have no purpose
- Being anxious or reckless and/or showing signs of rage
- Recent trauma or life crisis and the person feels they're trapped or in unbearable pain
- The person starts to make personal preparations such as cleaning out stuff around their home, making a will, giving things away
- Saying that they are a burden to those around them and/or threatens or talks about suicide
Things You Can Do To Help Yourself Cope
LEAN ON YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM
Don’t hesitate to reach out to loved ones around you for support. Always ask for help when you need it.
If you go to a church, talk with a priest or pastor for some guidance. You might also consider joining a support group. There are plenty of groups for suicide survivors—see a few resources below.
INVEST IN THERAPY
Seek out a licensed therapist. It can be very helpful to find a therapist you feel comfortable opening up to, and eventually you can build a long-term relationship with them. That way, you can always have someone to talk to when needed.
See a few resources below for finding a therapist that would work for you.
Better Help—This site links you up with a licensed therapist that you can chat to online. This might be a more comfortable way for some people to discuss their issues.
Sonder Mind—Similar to Better Help, but you will decide between either having a video call or an in-person session with the therapist you are matched up with.
Psychology Today—Great place to find a therapist or counselor based on your needs. You can check the kinds of chat options each one has available.
OTHER WAYS YOU CAN COPE
Don’t rush yourself. Allow yourself whatever time you need to take to grieve your loved one. You should also be prepared for setbacks. Many emotions may arise, whether expected or unexpected. You shouldn’t be hard on yourself whenever this happens.
It can also help to learn more about suicide and how to cope. The more you are aware of, the more empowered you can make yourself feel. Do this by various different resources, such as:
Sometimes brochures and pamphlets are good to have. You can post them in important places where others can be educated as well.
There are plenty of books you can order online that provide information, supportive schools of thought, and more. See some of the most well-known books on suicide listed below.
DON'T LET IT DEFINE THEM
Overall, don’t let their suicide define them. Instead, make sure to focus on honoring them and remembering the memories that you shared. Share those memories with others, and keep their memory alive by remembering their life. See below for some great ideas for honoring your loved one.
Write about your loved one via journaling, online blogging, by writing a book, or any other way that you prefer. If you want to, you can share it with others in a way that feels best to you.
Plant A Tree
You could also consider planting a tree in their honor. This is a beautiful way to commemorate a life that has been lost.
It might be therapeutic for you and others who cared about the deceased to share stories and beliefs about them so that their thoughts and feelings may live on.
Create A Scrapbook
Get together some old photos and memories to create a scrapbook or memory box for them. You might also want to get other friends, family members and loved ones involved.
If they were cremated, you could look into getting ash jewelry, which is a way to combine your loved one’s ashes into the piece of jewelry itself. It’s a great way to commemorate someone who has died. Check out our guide to ash jewelry for guidance and ideas on which occasions to buy for.
You can also walk to raise awareness. There are walks called “Out of the Darkness,” which are held through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). They are overnight walks, symbolizing making it out of the darkness of suicide.
Live. You can honor them by living your life to the fullest like they would want you to. Help to spread messages of love and unity—that no one is truly alone in this. Be the voice for those silenced by suicide.
How To Help Someone That Has Suffered From Losing Someone To Suicide
Some people who are close friends or family of a suicide survivor feel a bit awkward or just aren’t sure what they should say when it comes to talking to them about it. It can help to become more knowledgeable about the topic, what is helpful for suicide bereavement support, and what, on the other hand, is less than helpful. Find the below tips for how to help someone that has suffered from losing someone to suicide.
As always, offer to be there for support. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your loved one to check up on them and see how they’re doing. Offer to help with everyday tasks while they grieve. This could be things such as:
You could offer to babysit their kids for a night or the weekend to help them out and give them time to reflect and grieve. You can always offer to help them with their chores, and daily tasks that might be difficult to deal with alone right now.
Offer to do some of their shopping for them. This could be for groceries or any other necessities they need. Or, cook meals to bring over for them. You could also help them deal with any financial burdens if relevant, such as helping them pay their bills or deposit something at the bank.
You might offer to walk their dog or help care for their pets. Take their plants to be cared for at your home if they have some that might be high maintenance. Offer to clean and help organize their house. Helping them to feel less cluttered and cleansing their environment can give them a better chance for a clear and healthy state of mind.
Ask them if they’d like you to help them notify people about the death. Sometimes, that alone can be a harrowing task for someone who is mourning. You can also help them organize the funeral by helping them to do the guest lists, search for a venue for the wake, make invitations, etc.
Moving forward, be aware of special times throughout the year that might make things more difficult for them, such as holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and any other days of significance.
HELP THEM FIND SUPPORT
Offer to help them find a counselor or group for support. It might be hard to get the motivation to look into things like that by themselves.
Listen to them whenever they need to talk. Let them express their grief in their own way. Be open to anything they have to say, and make sure you don’t come across as judgmental.
It can be difficult for someone dealing with suicide bereavement to open up. It’s important that you also don’t make them feel rushed, or like they have a time limit for moving on.
KEEP THE MEMORY ALIVE
Help them remember the good times and the memories that they shared with their loved one. This is a great way to make sure they are keeping their loved one’s memory alive. It’s also a great way to honor them.
GIVE THEM A GIFT
Give them the gift of a memorial keepsake in the form of a piece of cremation jewelry. This way, they can feel that their loved one is with them everywhere they go. A few great examples of cremation jewelry gifts are listed below.
- The Winged Memories Heart keepsake, which is great for a memorial keepsake as it is made up of angels’ wings.
- A teardrop glass locket, a unique, but beautiful way to commemorate their loved one.
- This gold Memorial Locket shaped like a cylinder. This would be great for any gender or age, and could be dressed up or down.
If you are unsure of whether they would want a piece of cremation jewelry, ask them if they would like to pick out a piece and then you would buy it. You can also have them check out our guide that discusses tips on choosing a piece of cremation jewelry.
You could also purchase a piece of photo engraved jewelry with their loved one’s photo on it for them. This is the perfect way to memorialize the one they lost, while helping them have an on-hand photo of them that they can wear on their person all the time.
Choose from a few examples such as a curved photo heart engraved bracelet, the or even photo engraved jewelry that holds cremains, like this rectangle cremation pendant that you can engrave a loved one’s photo on.
It’s also important to keep in mind what things would be a struggle due to the social stigma surrounding suicide. Read the below to learn what things can help fight against the isolation that can come with this kind of grief, plus things to simply keep in mind.
Having strong social support. Being surrounded by friends and family can make a huge difference. Grief can be difficult and painful, and a network of friends and family can make it much easier.
Try not to be alarmed or surprised by the intensity of their emotions during this time. Intense feelings can come in waves, and it can happen when you least expect it. Keep in mind that each “wave” will subside.
Accept that they may be struggling with new and sometimes conflicting emotions: including guilt, fear, blame, anger, regret and shame.
Bereaved people need compassion, empathy, reassurance, recognition of what has happened, plus a sense of validation of their feelings.
We also know that it is helpful to offer emotional and practical support while they are grieving. To support a grieving person though, you first will need to maintain your own wellbeing. Take care of yourself first.
What Should You Do If You Think Someone You Care About Is Suicidal?
If you suspect a loved one is suicidal there are things you can do to try to help. Whether it is asking pertinent questions or simply not leaving them alone, a small gesture can and may save a life.
ASK WHAT THEY ARE GOING THROUGH
Firstly, don’t be afraid to ask them if they are feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts. Showing them that you are open to talking about whatever they’re going through can make them more willing and comfortable to talk to you.
It won’t make them more likely to act out any suicidal actions. It will actually likely prolong them from doing anything. Being able to talk about things can help more than people realize.
Ask them questions such as:
How are you coping with what's been going on in your life?
Do you ever feel like giving up? Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself before?
Have you thought about how or when you'd do it?
Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?
ASK WHAT SUPPORT THEY HAVE
You might also ask if they are seeing a therapist or taking medication for the problem. This can help you figure out how much support they have at this point, and whether they have received treatment of any kind. Ask if they want to talk or if you can take them to someone to talk to.
WHAT ELSE YOU CAN DO
Don’t leave them alone. You might want to ask family or friends to help by staying with them while they work through the emotions. Ask if they have any weapons with them or in their home that you could hold on to for them.
Call a suicide hotline for support, but call 911 if there is an immediate emergency.
Loss Due To Suicide Frequently Asked Questions
How long is it healthy to grieve after someone commits suicide?
You should take as long as you need to grieve when you are a survivor of suicide. As a general rule of thumb, grief doesn’t work in a linear fashion. Instead, it can come with setbacks that make the grieving process take longer. It may just be that some days are better than others.
Can extreme grief cause death?
Technically, extreme symptoms of grief can cause death. Elevated grief has been shown to lead to higher inflammation in the body, and inflammation is at the core of most diseases. This Science Daily article discusses research that was done on such factors.
“’Previous research has shown that inflammation contributes to almost every disease in older adulthood," Fagundes said. "We also know that depression is linked to higher levels of inflammation, and those who lose a spouse are at considerably higher risk of major depression, heart attack, stroke and premature mortality.’”
How do I know if my loved one is suicidal?
You might wonder if anyone close to you might be suicidal, or whether they might be contemplating taking their own life. If someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, they might exhibit some or all of the below behaviors. Keep an eye out for the following behaviors:
- social withdrawal and/or a continuous drop in mood
- lack of interest in their personal hygiene or appearance, poor diet changes or rapid weight changes
- unusual reckless behavior, alcohol or drug abuse
- seeming distracted, angry or has insomnia
- giving away sentimental or expensive possessions
Can a child be suicidal?
Yes—this goes hand in hand with children who experience depression. According to an article in Very Well Mind by Lauren DiMaria, “This may include feelings such as worthlessness, hopelessness, and social withdrawal.”
Who is most likely to commit suicide? Men or women?
What do I say to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide?
You don’t have to necessarily say anything. What they may need the most is simply someone to talk to. You more than likely will be helping them out and supporting them through this tough time just by making yourself available to listen to whatever they want to talk about, or even just to give them some company and take their mind off of things, too.
It can help, though, to acknowledge the situation so they know you’re open to hearing about their thoughts and feelings on the matter. Express your concern for them, allow them to reflect on their emotions, and make sure to offer your support. Even if you don’t know exactly what to say, it’s easy to show someone you care about their wellbeing.
What don’t you say to someone who has lost a loved one to suicide?
Don’t say things like,
“They brought this on themselves,”
“Everything happens for a reason,”
“At least they’re in a better place and their suffering is over now.”
These kinds of statements can be more hurtful than helpful, and assume or push certain feelings or beliefs onto the suicide survivor. You want to instead give them space to feel whatever they might be feeling, and to express it when they feel comfortable to do so.
Can you still have a traditional funeral for someone who has committed suicide?
Yes, you can. Although suicide meant that burial rites were forfeit in the past, that has changed widely in recent years. Suicide has become much less about blaming the deceased in religious communities, and the mental health issues that come along with a suicide are more understood nowadays.
That being said, there are still many churches that will not allow this to happen. Ask around to see which ones near you have the option for a traditional funeral for suicides.
Should I talk about my loved one’s suicide?
You should do whatever you feel comfortable with. If you feel you want to talk about it, then do so. Surround yourself with those who will listen openly.
Can the risk for suicide be inherited?
The risk for suicide can be inherited, since the mood disorders that can ultimately lead to suicide can also be passed on to children. The HHS website says that “Major psychiatric illnesses, including bipolar disorder, major depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism and substance abuse, and certain personality disorders, which run in families, increase the risk for suicidal behavior.”
This doesn’t mean the child of someone who committed suicide will automatically be suicidal. It just means such people need to keep an eye on their mental health and wellbeing.
Is there a suicide gene?
There are multiple genes that can increase someone’s chances of becoming suicidal, apparently. A post on Chem Div discusses a study where scientists discovered genes that run in the families which make people more likely to kill themselves.
They want to study those genes further. “The researchers hope being able to identify people who are naturally more at risk of taking their own lives will help them target mental help to the right places,” the post says.
Is being depressed and suicidal the same thing?
Being depressed and being suicidal is not the same thing. You can be depressed and not experience any suicidal thoughts, although suicide usually is precluded by depression.
Suicidal depression and non-suicidal depression differ in a few ways. According to Psychiatry Advisor, people with suicidal depression cases experience more intense and heightened feelings of hopelessness and a lack of optimism, while non-suicidal depression sufferers will usually feel unhappy and lethargic, among other symptoms.
Surviving The Loss Of A Loved One Due To Suicide
Being a suicide survivor is truly an experience that’s difficult to compare to any other. It has a unique set of circumstances that come along with it, such as: the feelings experienced following the death, the way people might handle the aftermath of the suicide due to the stigma imposed on society, and the level of support you receive from others.
They may not know how to help, or otherwise might feel uncomfortable asking about the situation. Because of these aspects that set a loss due to suicide apart from other kinds of loss, it’s that much more important to be aware of helpful resources and ways to handle it. Coping with grief after a suicide can feel impossible, but the best thing to remember is that you’re never truly alone.
June 23, 2021 by Jeri K. Augustus