DEALING WITH DEATH THROUGH SUICIDE
In addition to the usual symptoms and pain of grief associated with death, suicide often leaves survivors with complicated reactions and unanswerable questions. It’s normal to almost obsessively ask “why,” to look for an answer as to why someone would take his or her own life. The impact of suicide is sudden and unexpected — it leaves no time to prepare for the emotional blow it delivers. Whether you’ve lost a friend or family member, shock, disbelief and denial are all common reactions.
Regardless of one’s awareness of the mental or emotional state of the deceased before they died, it’s impossible to be prepared for news of a suicide. We may worry that it could happen, know that it may be on the list of “possibilities,” but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier when it does happen. It’s still virtually unimaginable, and many people find themselves obsessing over the deceased’s last moments, wondering if they could have said or done anything that would have stopped such a brutal, final decision.
Because suicide leaves us feeling powerless, we blame others or ourselves. We believe someone should have done more, or an institution or medical facility should have been able to prevent it. The unfortunate and devastating truth is that even with medical care and emotional support, there are those for whom suicide is a step they are absolutely determined to take. So the blame is misplaced, although often hard to let go of.
When a person very close to you — a spouse, a child or a partner — commits suicide, a feeling of rejection is also normal. You may find yourself wondering why the deceased decided that death was preferable to living a life with you. While intellectually you may know or recognize that wasn’t the case, as someone deeply hurt by this death, your feelings of rejection and abandonment may persist. Over time they will subside, but early in your grief, it’s important to remind yourself of what is true and to try to regain a more balanced perspective.
COMMON SURVIVOR EMOTIONS
Survivors of suicide (i.e., those who have had a friend or family member suicide) may feel isolated or judged due to the stigma sometimes and wrongly associated with suicide. This can complicate your grief, adding a layer of guilt and disconnection that can prolong it. Common feelings include:
Shock: Numbness or disbelief may occur, or you might think the suicide couldn’t possibly be real. You may look for ways to verify or dismiss it.
Guilt: You may wonder what you should have said or done. You may replay “what if” or “if only” scenarios, blaming yourself for the suicide.
Anger: “Why did he/she abandon me?” “Why is death preferable to life with me?” You may also be angry with yourself or others for having missed “clues” that might have revealed the deceased’s intentions.
Despair: As happens with all grief, you may be overcome by sadness or feelings of helplessness. You may feel “crazy,” questioning your own sanity or having thoughts of suicide yourself. While this is not unusual, it can also be a sign of complicated grief . If you think you may be suffering from complicated grief, the intervention of a professional may help you better survive the pain and emotional turmoil associated with it. If you are having any thoughts of harming yourself, please seek professional treatment immediately. Visit our Crisis Hotline Page.