National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
The suicide of someone you love is one of the hardest things you’ll ever experience. Sometimes the most challenging part of it is dealing with the discomfort of others who seem incapable of knowing what to say or do. Grieving is a process that takes time. You can best help someone dealing with a loved one’s suicide by being non-judgmental, having a listening ear, and assisting them to re-establish a healing routine.
Many people have conflicted feelings about suicide. Some view it as a mortal sin; others see it as the person’s choice and thus not as tragic as death from cancer, for instance. Regardless of your personal belief system, if someone you care for loses someone to suicide, put these attitudes aside.
People often commit suicide because of depression, drug or sexual abuse, and mental illness. The decision to take one’s own life is rarely simple and full of healthy volition. Independent of the reason the person had for committing suicide, those who loved and now miss them will be deeply hurt.
It’s easy to blame yourself for the person’s suicide, thinking that if you just hadn’t said that or done this, then they wouldn’t have died. Not only is the grieving individual feeling loss, but they may also be experiencing guilt. They don’t need their feelings judged, criticized or diminished. They have the deepest right to grieve.
The Importance of Listening
Many people who have friends or family members who’ve lost a loved one to suicide feel helpless. They don’t know what to say or do to make the person feel better. Sometimes this helplessness leads them to ignore the bereaved individual, feeling too awkward or uncomfortable to give them a call or a visit.
Keeping silence in the face of such loss is the worst reaction you can have. The one who is grieving
needs to know that their friends and family care about their loss.
Even if you didn’t know the person who died, take the time to express sorrow over their passing. Tell the bereaved that you are there if they need to talk. Whether or not they open up to you about their feelings, at least they will know that you care. Understand that for up to a year and beyond, this person is going to feel differently about existence. They may not want to attend parties or social events. If they go out in public during their grieving process, tears may come unexpectedly or they may want to suddenly go home. Don’t take these reactions personally. Such emotions are natural. Make the griever feel comfortable with the time and space they require to properly heal.
Help Re-establish Routine
After a loved one’s suicide, the survivor’s whole world may seem meaningless for a while. Everyday activities will likely feel hollow, pointless or empty. The person may lack energy and desire. As their support system, it is important that you assist them to slowly re-accustom themselves to living in society. Maintaining a routine is a vital part of this process. Sometimes the person is depleted of the will to return to prior normalcy. You can help by bringing or cooking them meals, suggesting they get exercise and going on walks with them, inviting them to quiet gatherings or out to the movies.
The sooner a routine is re-established, the faster the individual will be able to heal. This doesn’t mean you should pressure the person. Just make yourself available to assist them with what they need. If they are letting their personal hygiene go, then suggest a haircut, take them for a manicure, get them bubble bath. Help them with their daily chores. Drive them to work. At the same time, respect their need for solitude and the outward expression of emotion. Along the way, if you can, give them a laugh here and there. In time, they will be able to return from a state of relentless grieving. No one is the same after a loved one’s suicide, but life can and will go on.