Although the way grief is experienced is as individual as we are, there can be some differences felt when someone has died by suicide. To lose someone in this way is confusing, complicated and tragic. A death by suicide is usually unexpected, often sudden and quite possibly, violent. These factors do influence and increase the degree of shock and trauma experienced by loved ones. Grief in this way is felt intensely, and this excruciating pain is accompanied by a profound sense of loss. Feelings of abandonment and a sense of rejection may surface. Some people may feel a sense of personal responsibility and wonder if life without them felt preferable to life with them in it. Although, it is really important to acknowledge that you are not responsible for their choice and that their exit was not about you. There may be part of you that feels that it was and this is to be expected. In time, these feelings become more manageable as they are processed therapeutically. It will become easier to gain a more balanced view and continue with the grieving process.
The unexpected nature of suicide and its subsequent impact, leaves unanswered questions and circular ways of thinking. A strong need to replay final moments, creates ruminating thoughts , such as wondering if something had been said or done differently, that it would have stopped such a brutal, final decision. Questions that frequently resurface during the grieving and recovery process are Why? and/or How did this happen? Until the question of “why” can be answered, grieving family and friends may continue to search and ruminate. Sadly, these difficult yet valid questions that are left, will be difficult to answer. Loved ones may feel as though they are trying to create a puzzle and fill in the gaps. Tragically and frustratingly these final pieces of the missing puzzle will only be known to the person who has died by suicide. Thereby leaving a permanent space.
It may be a unexpected that those who have been bereaved by suicide could exhibit symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD). These may manifest as the following:
• Recurrent intrusive thoughts about the death
• Shattered assumptions about the world, oneself, and others
• Feelings of guilt and blame
• Fear and avoidance of grief and trauma emotions, thoughts, memories
If the person witnessed the death or may have found the deceased, its likely they will experience flashbacks and/ or nightmares. This can happen even if the person did not witness the death, these intrusive thoughts can quickly create traumatic images about what happened, and imagination may be worse than the reality. It is also important to be aware of how secondary stressors, historic trauma, coping skills and access to support will play a role in how a person responds to and copes with their loss.
In cases of suicide there are legal processes that take place. One is an investigation by a coroner. This process tends to be drawn out due to information gathering and protocol. This unorthodox proceeding contains upsetting factual information that will be read in court. Although it is likely that the coroner will manage this empathically. These are difficult , traumatic and emotional words to hear.
Furthermore, the information from the inquest is considered to be within the public domain, this means that a reporter may be present, with the potential to release this information to the media.
If you hear the word suicide , it is most likely followed up with someone saying it is selfish. How can someone kill themselves and leave their loved ones behind? It is my view that, someone whom dies by suicide does so as the only means in which to end their pain. Therefore, the idea that suicide is selfish becomes a product of stigma. It can be created unwillingly, quite simply because people do not know how to respond. This can prevent people from seeking help when they need it and others from offering support when they want to.
The following are some possible causes for stigma and shame following a death by suicide
Isolation and shame may result from the family’s decision to keep the suicide a secret.
Shame may result from thoughts of personal blame and responsibility.
Shame may result from the belief that one can’t manage their own grief
Isolation and shame may result from a lack of social and emotional support
Shame and stigma may be felt in response to society views about suicide
Isolation may result from perceived rejection and abandonment
Talking this over with a professional, can allow you to grieve and separate what feelings are yours. It can also highlight projected views form people around you or society as a whole and allow you to separate what is your and what isn’t.