Bereaved by suicide
The death of someone you care for is always a painful death but the grief you feel can be deeper when the cause of death is suicide.
The death of someone you care for is always a painful event but the grief you feel can be deeper when the cause of death is suicide.
Stages of grief
Most people experience three stages of grief
- Initial shock – you may be emotionally numb and may struggle to accept what is happening. Some people busy themselves with arrangements and this can delay your processing of your loss
- Mourning – a period of mourning where you can experience intense feelings of sadness, blame, guilt, worry and self-pity as well as physical health issues – this may only set in after a funeral or memorial service
- Acceptance – you may never be able to fully come to terms with the fact that your loved one has gone, but acceptance allows you to recognize the reality of the situation.
Delayed stages of grief
There may be a review or inquest into a person’s death by suicide if
- They were in contact with mental health services in the 12 months before their death
- They died in prison or police custody
- The coroner believes an inquest is necessary
This can prolong the grieving process and make it harder for you to mourn your loved one and accept their passing.
Grieving someone who has died by suicide is often different to other types of bereavement. It’s common to feel intense emotions when someone you love dies by suicide
- You may feel shock or confusion about what has happened
- You may struggle to accept that the person died by suicide
- You may feel anger at the person who died or at other people
- You may feel guilty or as though you could have done something to make a difference
- You may struggle with everyday tasks
- You may have to deal with insensitive and hurtful comments from others
- You may spend a lot of time trying to understand why the person died in this way
The strong emotional response that often comes with suicide can delay your ability to move through the stages of grief. In time these strong feelings start to lessen. The loss won’t always be the first thing you think about each day and you will start to find meaning and purpose in your life again.
People who have been affected by suicide often want and struggle to understand why it happened. But there may not be an answer to this difficult question. Suicide may be associated with:
- Mental illness, such as depression or schizophrenia
- Chronic pain
- Physical disability
- Stress of certain life events
Feelings of guilt and anger
Guilt is a common feeling
Lots of people feel guilt and blame themselves after a loved one’s death by suicide.
You may feel that you saw warning signs, that you should have seen the person more or that you could have done something to stop what happened.
You may feel angry at the person who died. You may feel that they should have ‘kept fighting’, that they betrayed you or failed you.
These are common, normal reactions to this trauma. But the reasons that someone dies by suicide are complex – it is not your fault that they died.
Feelings of relief
Some people who end their own lives were affected by mental illness, such as depression, schizophrenia or other conditions.
The suicide of a loved one can bring feelings of relief if that person was very ill, especially if they suffered great distress and torment.
Death and bereavement can bring a strange mixture of emotions. You shouldn’t feel guilty about how you react.
Negative reactions from others
Despite lots of work to understand mental illness and suicide, it still carries stigma. You may have to deal with people who respond poorly to your bereavement. Some people may judge the person who died, or may struggle to connect with you because they feel awkward about the cause of death.
It can really hurt to have people make callous or thoughtless comments in response to suicide. You may want to have a standard response to end conversations that cause you pain.
Coping with the loss of someone you love
Suggestions to help you cope with the suicide of someone you care for include:
- Give yourself time to come to terms with your loss
- Try not to deny your feelings
- Remember that grief is a normal reaction, even when your feelings seem too intense to be normal
- If friends seem awkward or don’t know what to say, tell them what you need
- Accept that some friends won’t be able to give you the kind of emotional support you need
- Consider joining a support group in your area
- Anticipate that important events, such as birthdays and Christmas, will provoke strong feelings
- Seek help and support through professional bereavement counselling
Support and resources
The Public Health Agency publishes a leaflet explaining what support is available after someone dies by suicide in Northern Ireland.
There are organisations across Northern Ireland who can help you if you’ve been bereaved through suicide, including
- Northern Trust’s bereaved by suicide support service
- Extern’s Safe project for people bereaved by suicide in the Greater Shankill area
- Western Trust has five bereaved by suicide support groups throughout its area
- Niamh Louise Foundation in Dungannon
Speak to your GP if you are struggling. They may know of other local support groups who can help.