If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, there are many things you can do. In addition, by reaching out, you also help take stigma out of the equation.
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the death. Extend your condolences, express your feelings of sorrow. Make sure you use the loved one’s name. “My heart is so sad that John died.” Many who have lost someone to suicide have a broken heart, clinically called Stress Cardiomyopathy, and really need your empathy, compassion and understanding to heal. Ask the survivor if and how you can help. Though they may not be ready to accept help, asking signifies that you are there—not avoiding or distancing during this tragic event. The notion of being there if needed is extremely comforting for survivors.
Encourage openness. Be accepting of however survivors need to express their feelings. It may be with silence, with sadness or even anger. Be patient. Don’t set a time limit for a survivor’s grief. Complicated grief can take years to process. Moreover, don’t limit a survivor’s need to share and repeat stories, conversations or wishes. Repetition is a key factor in grief recovery.
Listen. Be a compassionate listener. This means don’t look to fix things. The greatest gift you can give someone you care about who has survived a suicide loss is your time, reassurance and love.
Ways to Help Yourself if You’re a Survivor of Suicide Loss
- Ground yourself: It may be very painful, but you must learn to hold tightly to the truth that you are not responsible for your loved one’s suicide in any way, shape, or form.
- Don’t put a limit of your grief. Grieve in your own way, on your own time frame. It will take time to find a place for your sadness and loss. It may take even more time for you to feel hope again and envision possibilities.
- Plan ahead. When you feel ready, assist your family in finding ways to mark your loved one’s birthday, family holidays or other milestones. Understand that new moments, experiences or events will be met with sadness, even with emotional setbacks. Preparing for how you will move through these calendar dates will help minimize traumatic reactions.
- Make connections. Consider joining a support group specifically designed for survivors of suicide loss. The environment can provide a mutually supportive, reassuring healing environment unlike anywhere else.
- Give yourself permission. To cry. To laugh. To seek professional help if you need it. Remember that you are moving through the most difficult of losses—and you can take control of the path to healing.