Grief After Suicide – Part 1

Coping with the loss of someone you care about is one of life’s biggest challenges, especially if that loss was due to suicide.  Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming.  You may experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions, from shock or anger to disbelief, guilt, and profound sadness.  The pain of grief can also disrupt your physical health, making it difficult to sleep, eat, or even think straight. These are normal reactions to significant loss.  But while there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to cope with the pain that, in time, can ease your sadness and help you come to terms with your loss, find new meaning, and move on with your life.

While experiencing loss is an inevitable part of life, there are ways to help cope with the pain, come to terms with your grief, and eventually, find a way to pick up the pieces and move on with your life.

  1. Acknowledge your pain.
  2. Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions.
  3. Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you.
  4. Seek out face-to-face support from people who care about you.
  5. Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically.
  6. Recognize the difference between grief and depression.

Grieving is a highly individual experience; there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.  How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and how significant the loss was to you.  Inevitably, the grieving process takes time.  Healing happens gradually; it can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving.  Some people start to feel better in weeks or months.  For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it’s important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.”  These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up.

  • Denial:“This can’t be happening to me.”
  • Anger: Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
  • Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
  • Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
  • Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”

If you are experiencing any of these emotions following the loss of a loved one due to suicide, it may help to know that your reaction is natural and that you’ll heal in time.  However, not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages—and that’s okay.  Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go through each stage in order to heal.  In fact, some people resolve their grief without going through any of these stages.  And if you do go through these stages of grief, you probably won’t experience them in a neat, sequential order, so don’t worry about what you “should” be feeling or which stage you’re supposed to be in.

Kübler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone who mourns.  In her last book before her death in 2004, she said of the five stages of grief: “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages.  They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss.  Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”

Instead of a series of stages, we might also think of the grieving process as a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, highs and lows.  Like many roller coasters, the ride tends to be rougher in the beginning, the lows may be deeper and longer.  The difficult periods should become less intense and shorter as time goes by, but it takes time to work through a loss.  Even years after a loss, especially at special events such as a family wedding or the birth of a child, we may still experience a strong sense of grief (Hospice Foundation of America).

In Part 2 of this series of articles, we will talk about grief symptoms and how to take care of yourself as you grieve.  In Part 3, we will talk about what to do when grief doesn’t go away and seeking support (including professional help, if necessary) to help you through the grieving process.

If you’re struggling with your emotions and would like to chat, please reach out to us at m.me/callforbackup.org/ and we will be glad to respond.  If you are having suicidal thoughts yourself and are in crisis now, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1(800) 273-TALK (8255).

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