Bereavement by suicide shares characteristics with other bereavements and it is also different – it can bring an intensity and range of emotions and physical reactions which may be unfamiliar, frightening and uncontrollable.
We are all different. You may have some, all or none of the emotional or physical feelings described. Do not worry that you are not reacting in the “right way” – there is no right or wrong way and we all respond differently to a death by suicide. Read on to find out more about:
You may experience disturbances in your thinking and behaviour, as well as the following emotions:
- Shock and disbelief
- Anguish, longing and searching
- Anger, guilt, relief and shame
- Fear and anxiety
- Despair, depression and sadness
Shock and disbelief – these will often be the first reactions. In many cases the suicide was not expected or there was little warning. You may feel dazed and numb and you may have nightmares. These are normal results of shock.
“My world fell apart when my gentle, beautiful son died. The shock was immense. I cannot find the words to describe these moments… nothing made sense”
You may also feel disorientated and out of touch with the world around you
“I walk down the street and nothing seems real, including myself”
Anguish, longing and searching – You may have a desperate longing, not just to see the person again but to sort out whatever problems they were having and change the outcome for them. You find yourself searching for them and thinking that you see or hear them. You may find yourself behaving in ways which appear odd to outsiders but which help you to feel close to the person who died.
Anger – this is a common response to bereavement. You may be angry with yourself because you feel that you should have realised there was a problem or that you could have acted differently. You may be angry with others and this can take the form of blame – there is a danger of tormenting yourself if you pursue this. You may also feel angry with the person who died.
“I feel so guilty when I get angry with you and I do get angry with you. Angry for the way you made me feel. Angry for the way my life has changed since you died. Angry with you for leaving. Angry with you for so many things – none of which is truly your fault.”
Guilt – you may feel guilty about things you believe that you could or should have done, or about your feelings about the death. Those bereaved by suicide are plagued by thoughts of “if only…” Very often it can be some time before we realise that the decision the person made was a result of many factors and that the apparent reason for their decision was just the last in a long series of events.
Relief – When the person who died was known to have had a troubled or unhappy life, or made repeated suicide attempts, it is common for relief to be mixed in with other emotions that we feel. It can be difficult to admit this to ourselves and, when we do, we feel guilty about it. It is however a natural reaction. We are relieved not that the person’s life is over but that they are no longer suffering and perhaps that constant threats of suicide or other destructive acts will not happen again.
“It was only many years later that I learned my private, guilty, sense of relief was an understandable reaction to the stresses of living with my mother and her subsequent death from an overdose.”
Shame – some survivors feel ashamed because they feel that the suicide has branded them as, say, a bad parent, sister or partner in eyes of the community. This feeling of shame is often made worse by the stigma still attached to suicide and may be intensified if we isolate ourselves from people who we fear will blame or judge us.
Fear and anxiety – you may be worrying about the welfare of other family members and terrified about the consequences for vulnerable relatives. How will you and others cope? What will the future be like? These are normal concerns.
Despair and depression – following a bereavement by suicide, the constant swings of emotion, the never ending questioning, the physical pain and lack of sleep all have an effect and you may need to consult your doctor. The pain you experience may be so intense that you find yourself having thoughts about taking your own life – you must seek help if you have these thoughts, get support from your Doctor. Don’t delay.
Sadness – This is one of the most common feelings. It is natural to cry but it is also quite normal for some of us not to do this as we were brought up not to show our feelings. Men typically cry less than women but this is not always the case.
“There were days when I could feel myself going downhill with no brakes and all I could do was shut myself in my bedroom and howl”
Grief can also affect sexual feelings and this can become a source of conflict between partners and lead to a greater sense of isolation.
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You may experience some or all of the following physical sensations:
- Hollow or twisting pain in the stomach
- Tightness in the chest
- Tightness and pain in the throat
- Sensitivity to noise
- Disturbed sleep
- Poor concentration
- Lack of energy
You should be aware of any physical symptoms and consult with your doctor if they persist over a long period of time as they may lead to a more serious physical condition.
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The death of another person by suicide can be traumatic. If you discovered the body or witnessed the death you may find yourself experiencing recurring nightmares or flashbacks. You may even be imagining what happened. Flashbacks are very distressing and can be symptoms of post traumatic stress.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. You should speak with your Doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of post traumatic stress. Whilst anti-depressant medication may be prescribed, you may feel that these are not appropriate to your needs and you may want to explore an intervention such as psychological therapy.
For more information from the NHS about post traumatic stress, its symptoms and treatment, click here.
This section has been largely reproduced from “You are not Alone” with the kind permission of John Peters.