Grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide is different from other loss. It is typically unexpected and can cause loved ones to feel not only shocked, but responsible. Whether the victim was a friend, family member, spouse, or even an acquaintance — suicide leaves a lasting impact on those left behind. If you have lost a loved one to suicide, it's completely normal to feel depressed, anxious, and confused.
With the high-profile losses of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in 2018, people began questioning the ways mental health presents in those who appear, at least outwardly, to be happy. It's difficult to judge whether someone will make the decision to end their life, even if they have a long history of mental illness and previous attempts. While all deaths cause grief, suicides are particularly damaging for loved ones left to mourn.
An Issue of Health
Depression is a health issue — not an issue of morality or willpower. By the time someone is successful in a suicide attempt, it's usually not their first attempt. Long battles with depression slowly wear people down, reducing their ability to cope. It's important to get informed on issues of mental health if a loved one has recently ended their life, as it can help you to better understand the tragedy that has occurred.
Strategies for Coping With a Suicide
If someone you know has lost a battle with with their mental health, you should waste no time in getting help. The following strategies are not a replacement for getting the advice of a professional. If a recent suicide is troubling you, get the assistance of a qualified grief counselor to help put your feelings into perspective.
Normalize Your Grief
Depending on your relationship, you may find ways to hold yourself responsible for the death. Confidantes, close friends, and family members often blame themselves for not noticing or recognizing the signs of depression. Acquaintances and colleagues often find themselves battling feelings of self-blame, especially when they were a part of the deceased person's daily life, but knew nothing of their hidden struggles.
No matter the circumstances, there is nothing productive in blaming yourself or others for a suicide. But that doesn't mean there is nothing to learn. This can hinder your ability to grieve properly and, ultimately, to heal. The most important thing to do to successfully cope with a suicide is to normalize your grief. Remember that grief doesn't always mean sadness. You might feel angry toward your loved one for taking their life or feel guilty that you're still alive and they aren't. All of these feelings are completely normal. Once you can normalize your grief, you can start the healing process.
One way to combat the feelings of self-blame following a suicide is to empower yourself with knowledge and skills. If not recognizing the signs of your loved one's depression is bothering, take courses, engage with a counselor, and visit support groups. Learning how to make an assessment of a suicidal person's behavior is not a fail-safe way of preventing suicide, but it will arm you with helpful skills for the future. Knowing you've made strides toward understanding mental illness can also help you cope with your grief.
Don't Dwell on the Why
For those who are not suicidal, understanding why someone would take the drastic and permanent step of ending their life is utterly incomprehensible. The question "Why did they do this?" is probably at the forefront of your mind. In spite of tangible reasons (financial issues, bullying, depression, etc.) it's still difficult to understand the relationship of problems to loss of life. As desperately as you may want the answer to that question, the truth is that you may never know. What matters is honoring their life, and preventing future tragedies like this in the future.
Focus on the Present
Losing a loved one to suicide can cause you to live in the past. For some time, you may be caught up in a cycle of many questions and few answers. It's natural to wonder what happened to lead them to this point, and if there was anything you could have done to prevent it. Dwelling on this too often can lead to depression and complicated grief. Focus on the present, accept what you don't know, and seek the professional help you need to heal from your loss.
A Final Word
All loss is hard. But losing a loved one to suicide can be especially difficult to comprehend. In order to find peace in the wake of tragedy, you'll need to forge your own way through grief. Whether you are getting advice from a counselor, friends, or this article, take what works for you, and leave what doesn't. Remember that those grieving a suicide are more likely to become depressed or suicidal themselves. That's why you need to make grieving healthily a priority. Reach out to friends and family who may seem a bit distracted, absent, or isolated. Depression and suicide are reaching epidemic levels, but we can help by making one genuine connection at a time.