What It’s Like Losing A Loved One To Suicide
Losing a loved one is never easy, and the grief never truly fades. It simply comes and goes like waves. Yet the grief that comes with losing someone to suicide feels vastly more intense.
While there has been great improvement in regard to treatment and education surrounding mental health, many still see the topic of suicide as taboo.
In July 2018, seven months after my own hospitalization, I lost a dear friend to suicide. Throughout their life, they struggled with both physical and mental health issues. But they also brought joy to so many.
When I discovered the news through Facebook, I was in shock. There was absolutely no way that she was dead, I thought. Upon further investigation, I realized it was not some cruel prank. She was really gone.
I cried every single day for the next week. I constantly asked myself why I didn’t see the signs. Was there something I could’ve done, even from nearly 2,600 miles away? Why’d they done it?
The truth is I would never ultimately know why she left and I couldn’t have known why she took her own life. But the questions were constantly circulating in my mind, leaving me in this endless loop of anxiety and blame.
Being in rural Ohio and making minimum wage, I could not afford the round-trip ticket to attend her funeral. So when the day came, I found myself doing nothing. Work, chores, and hobbies felt pointless and difficult. The weight of the world was on my shoulders and I felt like collapsing from the pressure.
There was nothing I could do but think about her lifeless body going into the ground. In fact, through the months that followed, that was all I could think about. The sweet person I met in high school through Tumblr and dated, fading away. Dissociation primarily got me through those first few months.
That was how I managed to work, interact with others, and get my household chores done. You cannot feel pain when you are detached from yourself and numb. Sleep became difficult, leading to many restless nights with vivid nightmares.
Four-and-a-half years later, not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. If we are being completely honest, I never fully allowed myself to work through my grief. I blame myself for not seeing the signs sooner.
There are times that I still feel guilty, living and enjoying the moments she did not get to. There are times when I break down in the shower because I miss seeing her face.
The emotions you experience after losing someone to suicide come naturally, but that does not mean we allow ourselves to process them and the death.
If you know someone who has experienced the loss of a loved one by suicide, you may be unsure how to help them. Below are four tips to help you become a better support system.
1. Let them know you are here to listen.
When someone is experiencing the loss of a loved one to suicide, it is easy to feel like you are alone and that you have no one to talk to. As their support system, one of the best things you can do is let them know you are here to listen.
Be patient and understanding. Losing someone to suicide is complex, so having someone listen can help them work through their grief.
2. Don’t minimize their experience.
Try to avoid using phrases such as “time heals all wounds,” ”be strong,” or “they’re in a better place.” These phrases minimize your loved one’s emotions and experiences during a difficult time.
Instead, try acknowledging their suffering. Comments and questions such as “How can I best support you right now?” or “It’s okay to feel what you are feeling right now.” These phrases let your loved one know that they are not alone and have someone to lean on for extra support.
3. Offer help with various tasks.
Daily living tasks can be extremely difficult when your loved one is processing someone’s loss to suicide. Offer assistance with tasks such as household chores, preparing a meal, or running errands.
Assisting them with tasks allows suicide loss survivors the space they need to cope with their grief while also not being bogged down by chores.
4. Don’t say that you understand.
While the sentiment is nice, the truth is that everyone experiences grief differently, including suicide loss survivors. Saying that you understand what they are going through can be dismissive.
Instead, saying something as simple as “I am so sorry for your loss” can be a great start to supporting your loved one.
No one wants to get a call, text, or post saying that someone has died from suicide. But if you are ever unfortunate enough to receive that, know that you are not alone.
From support groups to your family and friends, you don’t have to grieve on your own. Your healing journey won’t be perfect but know that you deserve the space to grieve.