Surviving the Unthinkable: Coping with the loss of a loved one who died by suicide

Losing a loved one to a death by suicide is a devastating and deeply painful experience that leaves families and friends grappling with a whirlwind of emotions. The grief, guilt, confusion, and anger that follow can be overwhelming, and the journey to healing is a challenging one. Here is some guidance on how to cope, find support, and move forward while honoring their memory.

Understanding there are things that might never make sense

The first step in surviving the loss of a loved one is to acknowledge that suicide is a complex issue. It is not a sign of weakness or selfishness, but rather a reflection of immense pain and suffering. Understanding this can help alleviate feelings of guilt or blame.

This is why joining a support group for survivors of suicide loss can be incredibly beneficial. These groups provide a safe space to share your experiences, connect with others who understand your unique and complex pain, and gain insights into coping strategies.

Talking helps  

Open and honest communication is key. Don’t be afraid to talk about your loved one, their struggles, and your feelings. Suppressing your emotions can make the grieving process more difficult.

If you decide to reach out to a mental health professional like a therapist, look for one who specializes in grief and trauma. They can provide you with the guidance and tools needed to navigate your emotions and find healthy ways to cope.

Keep the good memories alive
Keep your best memories of your loved one alive by celebrating their life. Create a scrapbook, host a memorial event, or establish a scholarship or charity in their name. This can bring a sense of purpose and positive focus to your grief. 

Author David Kessler wrote about this topic in “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage Grief.” Kessler explores the idea that there is a sixth stage of grief beyond the traditional five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) and introduces the concept of finding meaning as an essential aspect of the grieving process.

When you’re feeling up to it, consider educating yourself about suicide prevention and mental health. Sometimes, raising awareness and advocating for change can become a way to honor your loved one’s memory.

Caring for yourself
Grief can take a physical and emotional toll on your well-being. Make self-care a priority. Eat healthily, exercise, get enough rest, and engage in activities that bring you joy. It is also important to remember that grief is not a linear process, and your emotions will fluctuate. Allow yourself to feel anger, sadness, confusion, and even moments of happiness without judgment.

Understand that not everyone will know how to support you, and some may say unintentionally hurtful things or trigger you with seemingly innocuous comments. It’s okay to set boundaries and protect your emotional well-being.

Surviving the the death of a loved one by suicide is an ongoing journey that requires time, patience, and self-compassion. Regardless of how someone died, there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and healing is a highly individual process. Remember that you are not alone, and there are people, resources, and support available to help you navigate this difficult path. In time, you can find a way to carry your loved one’s memory with you as you move forward, finding hope and resilience in the face of tragedy.

If you or someone you love is talking about self-harm, thinking about harming someone else, experiencing severe emotional or behavioral distress, feeling out of touch with reality or disoriented, feeling out of control, or experiencing an inability to care for yourself, seek help right away Call 9-1-1 for emergency services or go to the nearest emergency room.