There is no blueprint for how we react to and cope after a suicide. We each have our own relationship with the person who died and we all grieve in our own way and at our own pace.
When someone grieves in a different way to you, it doesn’t mean that they don’t care – they are just finding their own way to cope. But it can be hard if they behave in a way that you can’t relate to. It can also be difficult to express our own grief around others if they are reacting differently, especially if those people also had a close relationship with the person who died.
Patience and understanding is helpful and it important that you try and find somewhere you can share your feelings. And remember that there is support available from others from outside friends and family – this can provide a space to “be yourself” without having to worry about how others will react.
Read on to find out more about suicide bereavement can affect:
- Sons and daughters
- Extended family
- Ex partners
- Friends and colleagues
- Clients, patients and customers
- People who didn’t know the person who died
Losing the person you have chosen to share your life with can destroy your hopes and expectations for the future. When you lose a partner to suicide it is not unusual to experience strong feelings of rejection or betrayal – a sense that they broke your shared commitment, that they chose to leave you or that they did not feel that they could look to you for help.
“I felt I was not good enough to stay alive with….”
You are likely to have had one of the closest relationships with the deceased – physically and emotionally. If there were no indications of their intentions, you may question yourself about how you could not have noticed or feel that they deceived you by hiding it. Or if there were indications, you may feel guilty that you did not do enough. You may find yourself questioning other aspects of your relationship and worrying about how others perceive you as a partner or spouse.
It is likely that you will be grieving alongside your partner’s birth family and it may be that their reactions leave you feeling blamed in part or whole for the suicide. This may be unintentional but sometimes people voice explicitly where they think that the blame lies.
“This wouldn’t have happened if (s)he hadn’t been with you…”
If you have children, you may find that you have to manage your experience of grief as a spouse alongside supporting your children through the loss of their parent.
In addition to the emotional impact of your bereavement, you may have practical concerns as a result of now having to cope with finances, home and family single handedly. There may need to be major changes to your life – changing or giving up your job, moving to a more affordable house or becoming a single parent.
You may also find that your social life is impacted too – the world may suddenly feel as if it is made for couples. You may find that it is difficult to contemplate developing new relationships in the future.
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When you lose a brother or a sister, you lose someone who shared many experiences and memories and who you may have expected to be with you for most of your life. Many siblings share a deep, protective connection. You may feel very guilty that you did not do enough to help them or that you are still alive when they are not.
Siblings may find that they become isolated in the family – perhaps because the parents seek to protect their remaining children by not sharing or involving them in the experience or it could be that remaining brothers and sisters do not share fully with their parents because they do not want to provoke worry or distress.
Brothers and sisters may also feel overlooked when attention is directed towards the parents by others:
“I was completely devastated. But each time I went into the village everyone, without exception, asked me how my mum was, as if I had no feelings about it at all”
This can feel very isolating but is worth remembering that sometimes people find suicide a difficult topic and so they may use an indirect question to start to a conversation – “how is your mum?” – which may then lead to a more direct conversation.
Twins may feel an even more extreme sense of loss – emotional and physical – and may feel further isolated as so few will have a shared understanding of their experience.
The death of our parents is always challenging but even more so when they die by suicide. It can invoke feelings of abandonment or rejection when someone who holds a key caring and guiding role in our lives takes their own life. The loss of a parent can have a particularly damaging effect on our self esteem.
In addition to dealing with your own grief and confusion, you may also find yourself dealing with a remaining parent who is grieving for their partner. This may be the first time that you have seen them emotionally vulnerable and it can be very distressing. If you are a child, they may still be caring for you whilst dealing with their own bereavement; if you are older you may find yourself caring for them as they grieve and that the roles become reversed.
If you lose your parent as a child you may find that people around you try to protect you and exclude you from details about the death. You may not be able to grieve fully and feelings may remain undealt with. This protection may even be so extreme that you may only find out the truth about your mother or father dying by suicide many years after the event, which may lead to a lot of memory searching, questioning and a break down of trust.
For more information about supporting children during a bereavement by suicide, click here.
Grandparents are vulnerable to being hidden grievers, as much of the focus is on the partner or the parents – however the relationship is very close. You are likely to also be very concerned for your own children, the parents of the deceased and want to be supportive to them. Your own grief reaction may get overlooked.
You may not have been closely related however you may still be deeply affected by a suicide in your family, particularly if you had close relationship with the deceased. Other family members may not realise the depth of your grief – indeed they may look to you to provide practical help and support. However it can be very supportive to let them know how loved and appreciated the deceased was, when you feel that the time is right to share.
An earlier separation or divorce may not limit the grieving – you may still care deeply for the person or be affected even if your relationship was not good. Some aspects of your pain may be increased – for example you may fear that your separation was a contributory factor.
You may feel confused about how you are feeling, particularly if you were not on good terms prior to the death. Your grief is normal – but others may not recognise this or may assume that you are not deeply affected.
Even if you are not related at all, you may still find that you are deeply affected by the suicide of a friend or colleague, particularly if you had a very close relationship or if you were part of a very close community – perhaps through education or work.
If they were a close friend you will grieve for their loss and may wonder if you could have done something to prevent their death. If your relationship was more formal (e.g. they were an employee), you may wonder if somehow you contributed to their distress. This may affect your confidence and impact your ability to manage others.
You might not realise that the suicide has had a significant impact on you – you may think that because you are not related, that you are or should not be affected in the same way. However it is important that you are able to talk about how you feel and that you seek support from your friends, family, community or elsewhere.
If you had a professional relationship with the person who died, particularly one of a caring nature, you may experience feelings of guilt, feeling that you let them down or that you could have done something different. Your confidence may be knocked and you may find it hard to work.
It is important that you seek the appropriate supervision and support. You should always talk with your employer about occupational health or other support that they can provide to you, as well as exploring other opportunities for support.
A suicide can have an impact even if you did not know the person. It may be that you somehow became involved in what happened (e.g. you found the body) or that they were part of your community. Whatever the circumstances, it is important to recognise that the suicide of a stranger can still have a profound effect on you – it may not cause you to grieve in the same way as family and friends but it can trigger strong emotions and questions. It is important that you find someone you can talk to and seek support from.