Grieving a Suicide Death

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013 there were 41,149 suicides in the United States.  This rate is equal to 113 suicides each day or one every 13 minutes.  Surveys have shown that 40% of adults know at least one person who has died by suicide and upwards of 20% of adults report their lives have been significantly impacted by suicide.

I’m sorry we didn’t write this post sooner.

I have a lot I want to cover, so I won’t waste time on introductions.  I do realize, though, that some of you won’t read this post all the way through.  For those of you who know yourselves well enough to know you won’t finish, I want to let you know that I will link to additional resources at the end of this post.  Also, I want to invite anyone who has been touched by suicide to share your experiences in the comments below.  Although we can offer general thoughts on this subject, it is your insight that adds truth and nuance to this discussion and helps those facing similar circumstances feel less alone.

First things first, our usual disclaimer…

Although commonalities exist amongst people who have experienced a certain type of loss, individual grief is unique to the person experiencing it and their relationship with the person who died.  Although we can talk in averages and generalities, no article, grief theory, or set of symptoms will ever perfectly sum up your grief experience. Further, although you might be able to relate to aspects of another person’s grief (and vice versa), no one can completely understand how anyone else feels. With this in mind, we recommend you learn what you can from your commonalities with other grievers, but take differences with a grain of salt.

How we talk about suicide…

Although we may have a long way to go in understanding suicide and effective suicide prevention, thankfully progress has brought us far beyond the dark days when suicide was looked upon as a crime or religious offense.  Progress, though, is multifaceted and while our understanding of suicide has grown more compassionate, our language has not.

For this reason organizations like the World Health Organization, National Institute for Mental Health, American Association for Suicidology, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and countless others have been working to shift suicide-related terminology.  Although there are many fine points to this conversation, I simply want to impress the following upon you…

When referring an individual’s death from suicide…

Don’t say…She committed suicide.”

Do say… “She killed herself” or “She died by suicide”

I know most of you are used to saying “committed suicide” and you certainly aren’t alone.  Many people in our society have yet to get this memo, but now you have.  Please, the time has come for us to choose language around suicide that does not condemn or stigmatize the person who has died or those who love them.

Suicide as a traumatic loss…

When a loved one kills themselves, the death is often experienced as traumatic.  We typically use Wortman & Latack (2015) definition of traumatic loss…

“A death is considered traumatic if it occurs without warning; if it is untimely; if it involves violence; if there is damage to the loved one’s body; if it was caused by a perpetrator with the intent to harm; if the survivor regards the death as preventable; if the survivor believes that the loved one suffered; or if the survivor regards the death, or manner of death, as unfair and unjust.”

This definition touches on many experiences common to suicide death including the death being sudden, untimely, violent, regarded as preventable, etc. However there are other traumatic loss risk factors associated with suicide such as feelings of blame, witnessing the death, and finding the body.  Deaths that are also potentially traumatic events can result in the compounding and intertwining of trauma and grief responses. These may manifest as the following (these are just a few so if you’d like more information on grieving a traumatic loss, head here):

  • Recurrent intrusive thoughts about the death
  • Shattered assumptions about the world, onself, and others
  • Feelings of guilt and blame
  • Fear and avoidance of grief and trauma emotions, thoughts, memories, etc.

It’s important to note, it is not the nature of a death that makes it traumatic, rather how the event is interpreted and processed by the individual. This means that, regardless of the circumstances around the death, it is not a given that it will be experienced as traumatic. One cannot underestimate the impact of personal factors like emotional regulation, cognitive responses, secondary stressors, coping style, prior history of trauma, and access to support and resources in determining how a person responds to an event.

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When grieving a suicide death one may experience…

The search for answers:

In the wake of death, people often seek to construct a meaningful narrative that helps them to find peace and understanding in what happened.  So it’s common to ask questions like “what if?”, “why?”, and “what’s the point?” Until the question of “why” can be answered, grieving family and friends may continue to search and ruminate.

After a suicide death, as with any other type of death, the bereaved may seek to make sense of what happened.  However in this instance they may find that many of their questions are either unanswerable or they lead to distressing conclusions (whether these conclusions are true or not). It is not uncommon for themes of personal blame to arise as the person questions their role in their loved one’s suicide and what they could have done to prevent their death.  Unfortunately, the bereaved may vastly overestimate their own role and the role of others (i.e. what family and friends did or didn’t do), as opposed to blaming things like mental illness which is quite often present.

Whether rational or not, grieving family and friends may struggle with distressing thoughts like…

  • I never really knew him.
  • She didn’t feel comfortable confiding in me.
  • She was in intense pain
  • I’m to blame. I should have done more to prevent his death.
  • I’m to blame. I pushed him into the decision to kill himself.
  • She didn’t love me enough to live.
  • My family members are to blame.

The impact of expectedness…

Although suicide is often sudden, it is not always unexpected and so not all who experience the death of a loved one struggle to answer the question of “why?”.  In many instances there has been discussion of suicidal thoughts or past suicide attempts.  Maple et al (2007) found in interviews with suicidally bereaved parents that “preparedness” was linked with an ability to anticipate and explain their child’s death.  They note,

“Once they had acknowledged the inevitability of suicide they were able to weave this possibility, unwelcome as it was, into their life story to develop a coherent explanation.”

Family conflict:

Family can be an incredible source of comfort and healing after a death…for some.  For others, family can be a source of distressing conflict and misunderstanding after a death.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the death, things like complicated family dynamics, shifting roles, and different coping styles can test and challenge a family. After a suicide death additional conflict may emerge because…

  • The deceased’s mental illness and suicidal behavior created disruption and placed strain on the family as a whole.
  • Family members disagree about how they want to acknowledge the death publicly.
  • Family members disagree about how they want to discuss the death privately within the family.
  • Different family members come up with different explanations for why their loved one killed him- or herself
  • Blame

Feelings of rejection and abandonment:

Evidence has shown that suicidally bereaved individuals experience higher levels of rejection compared with other bereaved groups. In grief, feelings of guilt, blame, regret, and rejection can be logical, but they can also defy all logic and reason. So even when it’s evident that the suicide was not an act of intentional abandonment, it still may feel that way to the people who grieve the death.

Worries about developing mental illness:

Approximately 90% of those who die by suicide have one or more mental disorders.  When the deceased is connected to the bereaved through genetics, especially in the instance of a child grieving a parent’s suicide death, the living family member(s) may worry that they too will develop mental illness and some day make the choice to kill themselves. Indeed, some research has indicated that a family history of suicide increases suicide risk.

If you know a child, or adult for that matter, struggling with these concerns don’t immediately disregard their worries.  If you are someone grappling with this concern, know that it is normal and if you’re really worried then it never hurts to seek out a little support and psycho-education from a therapist or counselor.

Fear of grief reactions:

After a death mourners often feel as though they are going crazy, and, as noted, those who have experienced a traumatic loss often experience intensified and prolonged grief/trauma reactions.  If a person interprets their symptoms as dangerous, threatening, or indicative of a larger mental or physical problem, they are more likely to fear and inhibit their reactions (i.e. engage in avoidance).

Concerns about one’s own reactions following a death add to existing emotion by causing additional anxiety, depression, anger or shame.  Those who are fearful of their reactions may engage in maladaptive and persistent avoidance of triggers or reminders, which, in some cases, can contribute to the development of psychological disorder and prevent the mourner from finding meaningful ways to continue their bond with their loved one.

Relief:

It is common for a person to feel relieved after a loved one dies, when the loved one had been living in pain and suffering. For those who die from illness, the relief comes from knowing they are no longer in physical pain.  And when a person dies from something like suicide or overdose, the relief may come from a place of knowing that their loved one is no longer struggling with emotional (and sometimes physical) pain.

Another reason someone might feel relief is if the loved one’s suicidal behavior (or other types of behavior) had put a strain on their family or other types of relationships. This doesn’t mean that the person grieving the loss wouldn’t trade their relief to have their loved one back for just one moment, or that they don’t also feel intense pain and sadness. It just means that relief is one feeling in their big, messy, hurricane of grief.

Feelings of isolation, stigma and/or shame:

Sadly, there is a stigma attached to mental illness and suicide.  Others can’t imagine the mental and emotional pain that would cause a person to kill themselves and so they might make assumptions or judge the deceased’s actions, calling them weak or selfish or who knows what else.

This being the case, it’s no wonder that many people choose not to open up about their loved one’s death.  Stigmatized losses may also be referred to as disenfranchised losses, which you can read more about here.  The following are just a few potential causes for isolation, stigma, and shame following a suicide death:

  • Isolation and shame may result from the family’s decision to keep the suicide a secret.  Feeling unable to acknowledge the truth, those grieving the loss may feel as though they have to lie or live in silence.
  • Shame may result from thoughts of personal blame and responsibility.
  • Shame may result from the belief that one can’t control or manage their own grief reactions.
  • Isolation and shame may result from a lack of social support or because others don’t acknowledge the death.
  • Shame, isolation and stigma may be felt in response to messages from media and broader society about suicide
  • Isolation may result from perceived rejection and thoughts of worthlessness.

If you are grieving a loved one’s death from suicide you may find these resources helpful:

Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

SAVE: Suicide awareness voices of education

To Write Love on Her Arms

Our Posts:

In memory of Robin Williams: How to talk with kids about suicide

Review of the Dougy Center’s After a suicide death: An Activity Book for Grieving Kids

Review of Hospice of the Chesapeake’s Supporting Children After a Suicide Loss: a guide for parents and caregivers

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March 28, 2017

63 responses on "Grieving a Suicide Death"

  1. I say my brother took his life bc killed himself feels rude. 2 years today I’ll be writing about him today on idoltrash.com ty for this

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      I’m so sorry Aibon. The anniversary, or death-i-versary, or crap-i-versary or whatever you want to call it, is hard year after year. Thank you for your language suggestion. I agree, ‘took his life’ sounds a little less harsh than ‘killed himself’.

  2. I lost my partner to suicide in June 2016. I found his body. It was the most horrific experience but I would rather it was me that found him than anyone else. I am now going through intense therapy as I have been diagnosed with PTSD caused by what happened. It’s so hard because I want to be thinking about our memories and time together and I want to be able to grieve but I feel like I can’t because of the ptsd every time I think of him everything is clouded by horrible images. I feel like I’m not able to grieve properly.

  3. My son lost his battle with Bipolar disorder a year ago. I am still struggling and fighting mine. I don’t think how you word things matters as they are all just gone. My heart is broken and I don’t think it will ever heal! I have experienced so much loss as I was 14 when I got pregnant and the love of my life died when I was 5 months pregnant. The day I lost my son, I relived all of the grief of losing his father all over again and the grief of losing my son. I don’t think saying my son committed suicide is any different than saying his father died in a car wreck. All I can say is no matter how you say it, they are both gone and never coming back and I am left here wishing I was with them!!

  4. my husband killed himself in front of me with a pistol to the head. we got in a huge fight because he was so drunk, i blamed myself for the fight but i dont know , he knew what he was doing and it started the fight. i have a terrrible temper and i simply wanted him to sober up. it killed him , the gun might have ended his life but he was ready to die. he knew he was dying from the alcohol. i loved him and i do not think it is a selfish disease and i truly dont think it will ever stop because no one talks anymore and no one listens anymore. i am really down right now so my comments are not to refreshing,

  5. My only Son Sean died Mother’s Day night or very early Monday morning. He had just got back from officer development school for 5 wks. He graduated that on May 6 th. We went to R.I. To watch his graduation. My son was a third year medical student. He was at our house for Mother’s Day & then left for USC/Keck Medical school. He was to start s new rotation & his 4th year Monday. He was worried about where to met up with his class. After he was gone for the 5 wks & his professor didn’t answer his emails. When I texted him off & on Monday & none of my text were read I knew something wasn’t right. When his father died in 2007 of cancer. Our rule between us was don’t worry the other one. By Tuesday after his stepfather & I made tons of calls the police were called. They entered into the apartment to find him hanging. I had no idea Medical students & physicians are 4 times likely to kill themselves then the general population. Plus they are the most successful because of there training.

    I understand the word killed himself is hard for some to say but I see it like this for me. My son could not have been in his right mind to kill himself. I don’t say committed because it sounds like he is guilty of something. No way was that true. He didn’t commit a crime he was mentally out of it. This is why I chose to say he killed himself by suicide. Then I explain it to people what happened. I know each of us have our own journey. No two are the same I say do what feels right for you. It’s painful enough without having to worry how to phrase something when you talk about your loved one.
    My son never ever showed any depression to no one. It was such a shock to me, his stepfather & other family. Plus the friends and any of his professor’s. It’s the Medical schools dirty little secret. The day he died my husband was told to name a price & not to worry about the amount. Imagine that in the first few hours of finding out your son is dead being offered money. More than likely hush money to me. We said no thank you because no money could ever bring my son Sean Petro back. I plan on shouting it from the roof tops to spread the word about Medical students & Physcians suicides.

  6. On August 28th my boyfriend shot himself in the head in front of me. My heart Stopped the moment i seen the gun right before i put it to his head. i screamed his name and ran towards him . it is still all so not real to me . I dont want to accept that this is it . we were not fighting . we were happy going to get married. it plays over and over in my head i get a little closer each time . His eyes never leave mine , I even tried to catch his body. I see him everywhere i go , i use to love it when he would look at me and smile only now he is not smiling . I miss him so much i want this nightmare to be over

  7. My precious son suffered from Bipolar Disorder, his told me there is no hell, hell is here on this earth ! His ex-fiancé tormented him and stalked him and sent him a sms telling him to do everyone a favour and kill himself.
    I moved him back to our home after his 2nd attempt and also sent him to a rehab centre in KZN. I watched and kept vigil for 9 months barely sleeping at night, he suffered so much, he could not sleep, the medication for his Bipolar did not work, sleeping pills up to 6 did not work at all ! I sat with him for hours each night talking, he told me that I would have to accept that he could not carry on in this world, he felt like an outcast, did not fit in or belong. His so called friends mocked him when he did not drink calling him names, alcohol does not help Bipolar at all, they had seen it. Sadly one night I slept through the night and my son completed suicide, nothing could have prepared me for the pain, grief or sorrow that I still go through, the total lack of empathy. Family have forgotten him, never say his name. It’s as if he did not exist ! People have said shocking things to me, I now lash out and tell them that until they have walked in my shoes they know nothing. I am asked am I over it ? What is it ?! Am I better ? I feel immense anger and I know I am not the same person, how could I be. I tried and have no guilt feelings because I did all I could for him, but dear God since he died a part of me died too ! The sun does not shine anymore and there are days I wish I was dead too. Our family has been shattered in pieces, it’s always that empty chair, no future with him in it. His sister suffers from Bipolar too and misses him terribly – I also lost my first baby girl only after 10 days – so I find life very hard, and cannot enjoy myself or seem to be able to come to terms with this awful empty, sad and bereft feeling. How am I supposed to get over it ? I am harsh with idiots who say the wrong things I tell them to get lost, to leave me alone ! They say other’s have worse things happen to them, is that helpful ? May God help me get through another day as each day is a challenge and no one knows just what his death has done to my soul.

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      No…it is not helpful for people to tell you others have worse things happen to them. If that were something you would find comfort in, you would have arrived upon that conclusion yourself – I am so sorry for the lack of understanding and empathy you have found in the world. You have experienced immense losses, and I am not at all surprised that you have not gotten over them. You will never “get over” them per se, instead life will hopefully get easier as you learn to live with them. Have you considered a support group or speaking to a counselor? The right counselor could help to provide a supportive and nonjudgmental place to work through all the complicated experiences and emotions your dealing with. Also, the right support group could provide an environment of people who (in some ways, but not all) understand where you’ve been. I wish there was more we could do to help from all the way across the Internet 🙁 I do believe the National Alliance on Mental Illness has support groups as well as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. My thoughts are with you.

  8. My precious son suffered from Bipolar Disorder, his told me there is no hell, hell is here on this earth ! His ex-fiancé tormented him and stalked him and sent him a sms telling him to do everyone a favour and kill himself.
    I moved him back to our home after his 2nd attempt and also sent him to a rehab centre in KZN. I watch and kept vigil for 9 months barely sleeping at night, he suffered so much, he could not sleep, the medication for his Bipolar did not work, sleeping pills up to 6 did not work at all ! I sat with him for hours each night talking, he told me that I would have to accept that he could not carry on in this world, he felt like an outcast, did not fit in or belong. His so called friends mocked him when he did not drink calling him names, alcohol does not help Bipolar at all, they had seen it. Sadly one night I slept through the night and my son completed suicide, nothing could have prepared me for the pain, grief or sorrow that I still go through, the total lack of empathy. Family have forgotten him, never say his name. It’s as if he did not exist ! People have said shocking things to me, I now lash out and tell them that until they have walked in my shoes they know nothing. I am asked am I over it ? What is it ?! Am I better ? I feel immense anger and I know I am not the same person, how could I be. I tried and have no guilt feelings because I did all I could for him, but dear God since he died a part of me died too ! The sun does not shine anymore and there are days I wish I was dead too. Our family has been shattered in pieces, it’s always that empty chair, no future with him in it. His sister suffers from Bipolar too and misses him terribly – I also lost my first baby girl only after 10 days – so I find life very hard, and cannot enjoy myself or seem to be able to come to terms with this awful empty, sad and bereft feeling. How am I supposed to get over it ? I am harsh with idiots who say the wrong things I tell them to get lost, to leave me alone ! They say other’s have worse things happen to them, is that helpful ? May God help me get through another day as each day is a challenge and no one knows just what his death has done to my soul,

  9. My son died by suicide on jan 30,2015. He felt he had no choice. His wife was going to leave him and told him to do everyone a favor and kill himself. He had 3 children a son 20 and two daughters 14 and 5, I had been with him all week and thought we made progress then I got the call from him that he loved me and not to let his 14 year old daughter in the house after school. I begged him and told him I would be right over. Well he put a suicide not on Facebook that I didn’t see and showed up to ambulance and police cars all over the street. My daughter in law was in her car and I was told to pull over and when I said who I was I was told he had died. I just remember getting out of the car and falling to my knees crying no. I still relive it all the time. Now I don’t really get to see the grandkids and she has moved on. This is really hard.

  10. I lost my son to suicide going on three years this coming Sept. He had been a drug addict for years. He started doing drugs at 17. His habit went from drinking to smoking pot and pills. He married and had two children. His wife and him started using heroin and his wife overdosed and died. After many rehabs had failed and continued non support from my family members he decided to live with them. They just let him do drugs and watched him have many stunts in jail. The drug use continued to what ever drug he could get. One morning he woke up and started drinking heavily. He took my fathers rifle, called 911 and told them he was going to take his life. As the police came to the door he pulled the trigger. He took his life in front of both my parents. I had been raising his two children since there mothers passed. I kept them away from all the dis functional drama since they were 1-2 years old. They were 14-15 when he took his life. They met there dad the day we buried him. Because I was protecting his children we only had phone communication. The guilt I carry because of that decision has been just eating at me. I know I tried with all my heart and soul to help him. He just refused any help. I have been in counseling and It has helped with my grief. I keep going back trying to figure out how I could have changed this tragic outcome. My family blames me because I kept his children from him. Not to be mean or as a punishment but to give his children a calm structured life. They are both doing very well. I am so proud of them both. Its just I miss and love and regret so much now. I second guess every choice I have made now. Is my family right? Is it my fault? God this hurts so badly. I loved my son with all my heart. I had never tried so hard to help and failed. I guess this is the after math of what suicide leaves behind. I know now after reading many books that my son had depression in his early teens. In the 80’s depression was not understood like it is now. I know I tried and loved him more than my own life. I pray for his peace. Thank you for your blog. It has helped. Bless you ?

  11. I’d like to see an article about surviving being blamed for someone else’s suicide. I had 2 friends hang themselves, the later I found and had 2 cut down. 2 yrs later some people in town still call me the black widow.

  12. My only son took his life in the morning of January 1, 2013. I am functioning pretty well now, but of course the pain is still there. Unfortunately, every year everyone is so happy and celebrating the New Year, while I am re-living his death. I am often angry at him for ruining New Year’s for me, and for abandoning me. My siblings and I are taking care of my mom now – but who is going to be there to take care of me?

    • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

      Sue, Anger is a common emotion after a suicide loss and I am sure New Year’s is especially hard. The holidays are hard regardless after a loss, and I am sure this is only further complicated by the fact that it is the anniversary of when he took his life.

  13. I lost a spouse to suicide. He used a firearm and made me watch. I am still ‘grieving’ the loss of his life as well as mine the way I knew it. Suicide has left me with intense anxiety, triggers are everywhere, agoraphobia is getting worse as the years pass and I feel guilt for not being able to change the outcome of this nightmare that entered my world at 21 yrs old. He left behind two children: one of them our 16 month old daughter. I struggle with depression, PTSD, anxiety, flashbacks, insomnia, agoraphobia, social anxiety, and self blame. Suicide is unlike any other death. There is no one or nothing to blame but the person you loved most. That leaves you questioning every aspect of your life. It ruins relationships, and it truly changes your view on life as well as the way people view you. By the grace of God I am still here fighting the fight against suicide and our then so youg baby is now halfway through college as she graduated early and onto her dream of being a special effects make up designer. So proud of her and me! Rip weary souls and much love to all my fellow survivors. ❤

  14. Please remove my 2 posts under Mary Kral. Thank you.

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      Hey Mary,

      I am so sorry that you didn’t receive a meaningful response to your original post. Although we do monitor these comments, unless we are directly asked a question or addressed, many times we leave it to other commenters to respond. This is especially true on certain posts where we know that people are hoping to connect with others who have had similar experiences or who can relate. Please don’t take your lack of connection here as an indication that you are alone in all of this. Comment sections are really by nature very hit or miss as to whether the right person will come along and read all the comments and then respond back. Many people don’t even read comment sections by choice because they feel it’s too much. Online forums are far better places to try and connect with others online as typically every person is there to share, support one another, and connect. I will delete your other comments as you requested, but please let us know if you would like for us to recommend some forums if connecting with people online is still something that interests you.

      Sincerely,
      Eleanor

  15. I’ve have dealt with suicide twice in my life. My first when my fiance shot himself in front of me. I thought that would be the most traumatic thing that would ever happen to me. But no. The worst thing to ever happen is when my beautiful son did the same thing. My soul has been shattered and trying to pick myself up from this is a never ending struggle. The guilt is just a strong undercurrent flowing beneath the pain. He had just turned 20. I know if I would have been with him at the time it would never had happened. I am just starting to try to live my life again. Unfortunately things aren’t going so well.

  16. My best friend of 10 years killed herself 3 weeks ago. I know she had been struggling with anxiety and depression for the past 2 years and I always did everything I could to help her cope with her mental health issues. There were times when I knew she was really distressed because she would call or text me frequently to describe the way she was feeling. Anxiety and depression run in my family so I was able to offer her good advice and accept the way she was feeling without judging her. However, her mental health was clearly deteriorating the past year. It had gotten to the point where she wasn’t the same old friend anymore. It saddened me because I tried to help her and make her feel better but there was nothing I could do. Spending time with her wasn’t the same – it was almost like her eyes were glassed over and her physical body was present but her mind was elsewhere. This made me not want to spend as much time with her until she resolved her issues. I feel guilty for saying that now that she’s dead. She called me 2 days before she hung herself. When we spoke on the phone she explained to me that she had dropped out of school a few months back after she was hospitalized for a week after having a mental breakdown (and being officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder) and had moved home with her family and recently started a part-time job. I commended her for her efforts and told her that mental illness doesn’t have to be the end of your road. She was very smart and had aspirations of becoming a teacher or nurse. I told her that she was smart, strong and hard-working. She expressed to me that she was “so mad” that she had to deal with bipolar disorder for the rest of her life. I urged her to not look at it that way. I explained to her that there are millions of people living in the world with mental illness and many of them are functional and successful (as long as they take their medication and continue therapy). I reminded her that I am always here for her despite the fact we don’t see each other regularly (she was in school in DC and me in RI). I didn’t think anything much of that phone call because I assumed I would be seeing my friend the following week. It wasn’t until the Friday morning after that phone call with my friend that I received another phone call from her close cousin telling me that she had killed herself. When I received that news my body fell into shock. I began crying and shaking, I could barely eat anything. My mind could barely process what had just happened and my first thought was “I need to tell my family and close friends”. Luckily, when I received the horrible news, I was in the presence of my college roommates (who are also my best friends) they offered me so much love and support. Being in the presence of close friends and family has definitely helped me cope with my friend’s loss. The first few days after her death I was a wreck – I hate crying and I probably cried for 48 hours straight – it was mentally and physically exhausting. Once I attended the wake and funeral for my friend I felt much better and I felt a sense of closure. Sadly, this is not something that I will ever fully recover from. 3 weeks have passed since I lost my best friend and her loss hits me in waves. Just last night I was reading through old Facebook messages between the two of us, admiring our funny and witty conversations, and it really hit me that I will never be able to have another conversation with her again. And then I started crying again. Luckily my mother was home and was able to hold me and reassure me it’s not my fault my friend killed herself. But it’s hard to not think “what if there was something else I could have done to help her”. I realize now that it is not my fault she killed herself.

  17. My son took his own life 3months ago at the age of 30. The pain is still intense. We are a family broken. We live with the what ifs and why’s everyday. I want to leave the town where we live. Everywhere reminds me of him. I live in NZ, there is still great stigma around suicide here, and debate about how much should be reported in the media regarding the high suicide rates here. The powers that be are of the opinion the more that is reported, the more it may happen, ie copycat deaths. I wish it wasn’t this way and we could be open and a acknowledge what is a tragic epidemic here in NZ. Funding cuts to mental health services have done a great disservice to those who seek help before the act. We miss our son immensely. Still early day’s, but a friend who went through the same tragedy, said as a family, keep talking and supporting each other. I find getting out for long walks, and still talking to him help somewhat. Also being aware that social media can slap you in the face with memories your not quite ready for. I wish everyone on this grief journey well and have found this a good article to read. Thankyou

  18. Thank you for your posting. I have used your site many, many times as a chaplain and have referred so many other caregivers and bereaved to these helpful resources. Now, in the midst of my on journey through the wildness of grief, after the completion of suicide of my nephew this past Easter, I’m now numb and know many of these ‘truths’ will have new meaning in my life now and moving forward. Grateful. Journey on…

  19. My brother shot himself 13 months ago. He had been planning for almost a year. All business and paperwork was organized and his note told his wife where to find everything. My family barely speaks of the event and the lack of support from friends really surprised me. I need to find a support group, but that is difficult in the semi-rural area where I live.

  20. My 11 year old daughter died by suicide in January this year. She taklked abour ‘wanting to die’ six weeks before she died by suicide. This was her death.
    She was beautiful, talented, loved and happy. We are still shell shocked.
    We took her to her doctor. We got her to see a therapist. She made plans, danced, played piano. But she still died by suicide.
    It can happen ti anyone. Young adolecents are particularly at risk and need to be taught emotional resilance.
    That will be my gial to honour her.

    • Fiona
      I am so sorry about your daughter…I agree that life is so much more busy and complicated for young people today…they need to learn coping skills, but sadly many don’t and the madness of this technology, Facebook, etc keeps people from being really connected as they were in the past.
      Technology is good of course, but I think some young people and adults overuse it as a way to feel connected when in fact they are not…we NEED real connections with real people

  21. My brother killed himself last year he was 47 years old after battling depression and illness. I struggle daily coming to terms with what has happened to our family, I feel robbed of a future without my only sibling.
    I will say that most people avoid asking about how I am coping, and many friends have dropped of the radar, almost to the point where it is never mentioned. This is extremely difficult to deal with as you’ve always hope that your nearest and dearest will there for you in your darkest hours.

    I have joined a local support group (SOBS) and straight away I felt less alone and my mood is always lifted. It helps that others are experiencing the same emotions.
    I know my life is changed and I do wonder when I will find my zest for life again…

    • I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. My son was my daughter’s only sibling and they were so close…as a mom it makes me so sad as I am very close to my siblings.
      What does SOBS stand for? Is it just in your local area?

  22. my only son was one of those 41,149 he died by suicide 09/28/13
    from depression and compounded by substance abuse
    i miss him

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      I’m so sorry Rose. My heart goes out to you 🙁

    • I am so sorry Rose…my son suffered from anxiety and depression…he overdosed from heroin January 22, 2016…he knew this stuff could kill him as he overdosed before
      I feel the pain was too much for him and the drugs made it “better”
      I would be willing to guess that mental illness is behind most if not all drug overdoses…

  23. What is ALS please?

    • ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. A-myo-trophic comes from the Greek language. “A” means no. “Myo” refers to muscle, and “Trophic” means nourishment – “No muscle nourishment.” When a muscle has no nourishment, it “atrophies” or wastes away. “Lateral” identifies the areas in a person’s spinal cord where portions of the nerve cells that signal and control the muscles are located. As this area degenerates it leads to scarring or hardening (“sclerosis”) in the region.
      A person with ALS loses their ability to walk, talk, swallow, move and breath. It is a horrible disease for which there is no cure nor treatment. The prognosis is 2-5 years from diagnosis.

  24. My little sister killed herself 10 years ago, she was 20. She was a heavy heroin user but had decided to get clean. I got a phone call from my parents to tell me she was in hospital, my first reaction was her partner had beat her up, which happened on a regular basis but when we got there they wouldn’t let me see her, we were put in a room to wait. The police came in to inform us that she hanged herself in a homeless unit, her partner found her and they tried to revive her. We were told that she was brain dead and wouldn’t gain consciousness, my parents turned her life support off at 11am and she held on until 11.35pm if she lasted another 25 minutes they would have switched the life support back on. I didn’t grieve at the time I put it to the back of my mind as my mum needed me, my husband was deployed with the army the year after and then came back with an injury so I just kept ignoring the signs so I can be the strong for everyone around me, now I have had a breakdown and am currently going through test as the doctors believe I have Chronic Fatigue. At my sisters 10 year anniversary it hit me like a brick and everything has just fallen apart, I am now trying to work through my feelings but it’s hard, but I do hope one day that I will be able to accept my sisters death and be able to move on, I will never forget her just don’t want it to hurt as bad.

    • Unresolved grief will catch up with you as you have found out.
      Time DOES not heal all wounds, it is the action you take (grief counselor/grief support group etc) Just as flat tire will remain flat unless you take action to mend it
      You can sit by that tire all day and it will not mend itself…same with a broken heart, take action to heal and you will feel better

  25. My brother killed himself in February 1986. He was 7 1/2 years older than me and he died eight days after my wedding and after having run off a month before. Although it’s been 30 years it’s affected everything I do and say. It affected my parenting, I attributed drugs to my brother’s death. He had been depressed and had emotional problems since he was very young and the problems were never addressed. This article means a lot to me. Thank you for that. I tried to commit suicide more than once, twice while he was alive and three times since then. My granddaughter keeps me alive now. We’re so close and the thought of her suffering because of my dying in that type of way keeps me alive.

  26. My mother was one of the 41,149 suicides in 2013, and this blog had been a huge part of my healing. I think all of this has been touched upon by your post and the comments, but some of the things I was unprepared for in grieving my mother’s suicide included:
    – How many people asked me (and continue to ask me) how my mother died; I think this is because I’m relatively young to have lost a parent (I was 27 when she died), but I didn’t really expect people to ask me outright. At first I was uncomfortable answering this question and used to tell half-truths about alcohol abuse and medication overdose, but now I’m completely honest with every person that asks me, because I want to do my part to reduce the stigma of suicide. (To be clear, I have no judgments of others who choose not to share this information about their loved one’s death, and I know there are lots of good reasons why people are not comfortable sharing something so personal.)
    – It sometimes felt like people revoked some of their sympathy after learning that my mother had died by suicide, as if the loss were somehow less profound and my grief was somehow less deserving of compassion and support.
    – Conflict with my family members, especially in the beginning. I wanted us to acknowledge as a family that my mom’s death had been intentional and not accidental, and I received a lot of push-back initially. After receiving the death certificate I had a friend who sometimes works in partnership with the medical examiner schedule a meeting with the medical examiner to get more information about how the cause of death was determined, and after receiving that information I spoke privately with each of my immediate family members to share what I had learned. We don’t really talk about it as a family, but I feel at peace knowing that there is a common understanding of how my mom died.
    – I never noticed it before, but people make a LOT of jokes about suicide (i.e., miming a gun tot he head, jokes about killing oneself, etc.). It typically doesn’t bother me too much, but it seems that I hear a suicide joke at least once a week. And that’s probably on the low end considering almost everyone in my life knows how my mom died and I’m sure people “police” themselves around me more as a result!
    – The sense of relief was a bit of a shock. My mother had attempted suicide twice before she finally succeeded, and I think I spent several years “waiting for the other shoe to drop”, so to speak. I would fly into a panic if my mom didn’t answer the telephone or if I received an unexpected phone call from a family member. I feel less scared now, and some peace knowing that my mom’s pain is over.
    – I’m a lot needier than I was before this loss. If any of you are familiar with the idea of attachment styles, it feels as though the loss of my mother completely obliterated any secure attachments I had and I feel stuck in this space of anxious attachment (fearful that small inconsequential things will ruin the relationship, excessive fear of abandonment, etc.). I think this may go back to this idea of rejection, which is something I’ve never really thought about before.
    – And finally, I am more committed than ever before to treating my own depression and making sure I make my mental health a priority.

  27. My husband took his life in Jan 2016. The pain has been so bad that at times it takes my breath away. Many of our friends neighbors and family has never contacted me. YES there is a stigma to suicide . Also grief for suicide doesn’t exist. I have truer to get help for the pain and grief but have no where to go. I did grief share at a local church but they still read from the bible that it was a sin, I even looked for grief counsler but I can’t find any that takes my insurance Medicare and Tricare. My husband served 20 years defending our country but no help for me now that he is gone. Thank you for you article

    • I am sorry for your profound loss and I too am amazed by some of the people who have never come forward to express sympathy. It’s like they’re afraid they’ll catch something.
      Please don’t give up on GriefShare. Call around to other churches and ask if any of the facilitators have dealt with suicide. My group had one who reached out to me before the class even started.

      • the Grief Share in my area is all taught from the same book and the same video. So it will all be the same. I’m at a lost as to how to find help.

  28. As a What’s Your Grief podcast and social media follower, I was pleasantly surprised to see this post pop up. I lost my mom to suicide 7 months ago. In reference to the other comments above, I use the phrase “died by suicide” most often. I don’t listen to the Dougy Center’s podcast very often but they did have one episode discussing this terminology that I found insightful.

    In this article, this quote definitely stood out to me: “Once they had acknowledged the inevitability of suicide they were able to weave this possibility, unwelcome as it was, into their life story to develop a coherent explanation.”

    My mom made several attempts before she succeeded. While I wouldn’t say her death was a “relief,” I assume I wasn’t as shocked as others in my situation could’ve been.

    The stigma is definitely something that continually needs to be addressed. Thanks for continuing the conversation!

  29. I still have difficulty saying my son died by suicide. After almost 2 years I still stare at his death certificate in disbelief. When asked how he died, I just tell them alcohol and guns do not mix. He showed no signs of depression prior to his death, just the alcoholism. With my personal experiences alcohol & drug addiction are being left out of the equation when discussing suicide prevention.

    • Jen
      I so agree with you…drugs and alcohol do such damage to the “happy parts of the brain” and the sadness created is unbearable for many people

  30. I prefer saying “she took her own life”.

  31. I lost my husband to ALS, and 2 years later my oldest son died from ALS, then 4 months after that my youngest son died by suicide. For me there is such a difference in grieving between a death from a physical cause and a suicide. I have felt all the emotions, blame, guilt, anger, sadness, rejection, unworthiness, failure isolation, etc. I realized that my oldest son chose to die too. He opted out of his breathing machine because he said he had had enough of the pain, and since there is currently no cure for ALS, he chose even the day he was to take his mask off. He was attended by Hospice and it was “socially” acceptable. I came to realize that my youngest son who took his life by suicide had those very same feelings of hopelessness and believing that there wasn’t a cure for his feelings and emotional pain, but his death is attached to a stigma. One son had a visible disease and the other had an invisible disease, but they both chose to end their pain. I am now going to a therapist and it is helping me cope much better.

  32. Thank you for this well written, perfectly timed article. I am in yet another phase of grieving the loss of my son 16 months ago. You brought up many things that I had “set aside”, forgotten, and needed to hear again.
    When I speak about the event, I chose to say “He took his own life.” because it’s hard for me to say the “S” word.

    • Completed sounds like he’s been studying/working on suicide…and then he “completed” it….that sounds weird to ME I always say “my son took his own life through suicide”

  33. I, understand, the saying “committed” is upsetting. “Committed” sounds like a crime. “Committed robbery”, ” committed arson”, “committed murder”. My son COMPLETED SUICIDE. Thats the only way I will ever say it. I can’t say that he blew his head away. Nobody wants to hear that descriptive phrase.

    • Yes, I often want to say “he shot himself in the head,” but I know that would cause too much distress for the listener.

      • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

        Hi Sue, I don’t know if you ever listen to the radio show This American Life but if you do (or if your want to check it out) there is an episode called Birds and Bees and the last third of the show is about helping kids who lost someone to suicide learn how to talk about it open and honestly. Your comment made me think of the episode. You can listen to it online here http://m.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/557/birds-bees

        • Litsa – I love this American Life. 🙂 I have no children around me to talk to, I was referring to other adults that I had/have to break the news to.

          • Profile photo of Litsa Williams

            Hi Sue, sorry I wasn’t clear! It isn’t about telling children. It is about how we want to talk about it vs how other respond. It isnt a piece on how to do or not do it, just a piece reflecting on how people react to suicide loss and how that is complicated. It may not be relevant, but just made me think of it!

      • I don’t worry about making others “uncomfortable” by speaking of my boyfriend’s suicide by overdose on 3/4/16. We were together 10 years, and we were more in love than I thought possible. Family abuse and belittling spiraled his depression and self-worth into a dark hole. He was in so much pain.

        Someone recently told me that just because I could see it unfolding, for years, and then blatantly obvious the lady few months, that doesn’t mean I could have stopped it. I begged his family to help, but they didn’t want to acknowledge his mental illness and addiction because that would damage their reputation.

        Now they are suffering.

    • I say my son had depression and took his life.

  34. I read the whole article, yes it was an informative subject.., but I was kinda hurt when I read your do and don’t instructions..
    Do say… “She killed herself” or “She died by suicide”
    I find it a careless and judging expression on a suicide victim.

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      Hey Jabari,

      The phrases recommended above are actually some of the language being suggested by advocacy and mental health organizations to the media, mental health professionals, and the larger society for discussing death from suicide. The intention is to replace the existing terminology, mainly the term “committed suicide” as committed refers to things like crime and religious offenses and contributes to the stigma around suicide. These suggestions are useful in that it is necessary for society on a whole to shift the way we talk about suicide. However as an individual if these terms don’t feel right to you then by all means you should choose the language that you feel most closely matches your outlook and experience. I think what’s become kind of evident in many of the comments here is that each person has to identify what kind of language they feel most comfortable with when discussing their loved one’s death.

      Thanks for your thoughts,
      Eleanor

  35. Rose Eiesland FosterMay 17, 2016 at 4:52 pmReply

    This is such a well written article! Another reason for me to continue to point people in the direction of this website. I have two jobs: one, as a social worker, helping adults with severe mental illness and substance use disorders and two, as a grief support provider for a local funeral home. Another important description for me which resonates in everything I do is I am a widow who lost my husband to suicide 12 years ago. This event along with a few others, sent me on a trajectory that led me to the present day, making it my life’s work helping others. The loss of someone to suicide is so complicated and so misunderstood. I appreciate so much the mention of relief in the article. That is often a taboo subject; no one wants to admit that there is an element of relief sometimes when their loved one has died. But, it can be there Shame is prevalent for alot of survivors as well as guilt. For me, the most beneficial piece to my healing continues to be talking with others who have lost a loved one. I’ve been attending a support group for over 10 years, off and on. It meant to much to me and continues to mean so much to me, to know that, at least twice a month (our group meets twice a month), I can be assured that I can be “real” with others who have walked a similar path. In that circle of support, there is no shame, only relief and support. I highly recommend this to be a useful part of support for those left behind. Silence is generally the response that survivors receive from well meaning family and friends who don’t know what to say so they say nothing. I can assure you that silence hurts. So, that is why the support group for me is a safe and validating place for support. Thank you again for this website and this article!

  36. I lost my son to an overdose suicide last year, and while I knew he would eventually succumb to his depression, I was still shocked of course. This website was a lifeline to my grieving in a good way. In the winter I felt like I needed professional help for a bit, and tried a parents of deceased children group (not a fit) then discovered a group for survivors of suicide (excellent fit)there were a few books that had recommended finding a group. ..
    “Figuring Sh*t Out” being one of the books. Groups help when you’re ready I think. But this website has continued to be my resource. Interesting definition of traumatic death, thanks!

    • Profile photo of Eleanor Haley

      Is that a real book? That title is amazing! 🙂

      I’m so glad you’ve found this website to be helpful and I’m SO glad you’ve found good in person support. Good for you for trying a second group when the first one wasn’t a good fit, so many people give up after their first try!

  37. While not technically a suicide, I feel in some respects, my son’t death was very similar.
    He overdosed in October 2015 ( I did not know this until he had died in January) and it scared him enough to get into rehab, but he used again in January knowing full well that he could die. I cry when I ask myself why he did not call me when an incident happened in rehab…instead he went to what felt good and the sadness would end…this time permanently…but my sadness may last a lifetime…I am so glad I have a great support team and my faith.

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