The loss of a loved one by suicide is often shocking, painful and unexpected. The grief that ensues can be intense, complex and long term. Grief and bereavement are an extremely individual and unique process.
There is no given duration to being bereaved by suicide. Survivors of suicide are not looking for their lives to return to their prior state because things can never go back to how they were. Survivors aim to adjust to life without their loved one.
The single most important and helpful thing you can do as a friend is listen. Actively listen, without judgment, criticism, or prejudice, to what the survivor is telling you. Because of the stigma surrounding suicide, survivors are often hesitant to openly share their story and express their feelings. In order to help, you must overcome any preconceptions you have had about suicide and the suicide victim. This is best accomplished by educating yourself about suicide. While you may feel uncomfortable discussing suicide and its aftermath, survivor loved ones are in great pain and in need of your compassion.
Ask the survivor if and how you can help. They may not be ready to share and may want to grieve privately before accepting help. Let them talk at their own pace; they will share with you when (and what) they are ready to. Be patient. Repetition is part of healing, and as such you may hear the same story multiple times. Repetition is part of the healing process and survivors need to tell their story as many times as it is necessary.
Used the loved one’s name instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’. This humanizes the decedent; the use of the decedent’s name will be comforting.
You may not know what to say, and that’s okay. Your presence and unconditional listening is what a survivor is looking for.
You cannot lead someone through their grief. The journey is personal and unique to the individual. Do not tell them how they should act, what they should feel, or that they should feel better “by now”.
Avoid statements like “I know how you feel”; unless you are a survivor, you can only empathize with how they feel. Survivors of suicide support groups are helpful to survivors to express their feelings, tell their story, and share with others who have experienced a similar event. These groups are good resources for the healing process and many survivors find them helpful.
AAS offers a variety of resources and programs to survivors in an attempt to lessen pain as they travel their special path of grief. These include:
- Survivors of Suicide Loss Kit: an information kit consisting of fact sheets, a bibliography, and sample literature.
- Survivors of Suicide: Coping with the Suicide of a Loved One booklet and A Handbook for Survivors of Suicide.
- “Healing After Suicide Loss”, an annual conference held every April, for and about survivors.
- Suicide Prevention and Survivors of Suicide Resource Catalog: a listing of books, pamphlets, etc. which can be ordered from AAS. Includes resources for children and those who care for them.