Suicide survivors know that losing people to suicide is one of the losses no one wants to talk about. There’s this stigma around it that is so difficult. People don’t know what to say, how to offer support, or how to understand. It leaves a crater in the heart that feels like a black hole. Sadly, I’ve been a suicide survivor on both sides of the coin. I survived my own attempt and I survived losing many people I love to suicide. I have tips for suicide survivors to share with you.
Tips for Survivors of Suicide
These tips are for those who have survived the loss of a loved one to suicide. I can share another post on tips for those who have survived their own attempts if there is an interest. For now, this is the focus of this post.
This is not your fault as a suicide survivor!
The first instinct will be to try and find a reason why this person hurt themselves. You may even spend some time looking at every choice you made that could have caused this. Guilt is one of the feelings that will lead the charge when you first find out. Here’s the thing, this isn’t your fault!
I can hear it now, “But I…” “You don’t know about…” “Maybe I…” and I can tell you that how you end that won’t change what I’m telling you. This is not your fault.
The person you love chose this out of their own struggle. This may be because of mental health. This may be because they didn’t see themselves the way you saw them. They didn’t see hope where you might see hope. This doesn’t mean you did something. It means they couldn’t see beyond their situation.
You don’t owe anyone anything.
People who care for you will ask you questions. They will ask for someone to help them process their own feelings. They will want details of what happened, how it happened, and why you think it happened. You don’t owe this to them. Your grief is not a public display for everyone. Instead, you have the right to focus on yourself.
Losing someone to suicide is the kind of loss that can’t be quantified or put in a box. It’s traumatic, messy, and emotional. You do not have to relive that pain to put someone else at ease. It is ok to say no to someone or refuse to answer questions.
You can’t do this alone. Being a suicide survivor means reaching out for support.
Losing someone to suicide will make some people want to isolate. It can be a shameful road to walk. Not everyone has kind things to say about suicide and that can be very lonely. It can be tempting to hide away from people to avoid these interactions. You can’t do this alone though.
You need people who understand in your circle to say it wasn’t your fault, to remind you of the good times, to hold you, and let you feel what you need to feel. Find people who will surround you with love and not judgment. You will need that support desperately. Consider looking for a suicide survivor support group.
Accept help from compassionate people.
Find the people who will be compassionate to you and let them help. They will be able to bear some of the difficult burdens. It’s not an easy road to walk and having help with meals, planning, or painful phone calls will change everything. Don’t be afraid to delegate things to people you trust. You’re not meant to do this alone and having help is ok.
Here are a few ways you can let people help you.
- Meal Train – The last thing you may want to do is cook. Preparing a meal can let someone feel like they are helping. Let someone take over the coordination of these meals so you can focus on grief.
- Phone calls – You will have to make a lot of phone calls during this time. You will have to do things such as calling social security, calling funeral homes, calling insurance, and more. If there is someone you trust, let them help you with these tasks. It doesn’t mean you don’t love the one you lost but it can help you avoid feeling the trauma of the loss over and over again.
- Planning – You will be planning memorials, funerals, or other things related to the loss. Let someone help you with the planning. Make sure to pick someone who won’t take over.
- Cleaning/Sorting – When you lose someone you will be in charge of cleaning out their belongings. This can be emotionally exhausting. Have someone help you with this process who will be compassionate while helping you to get these items organized.
Your feelings don’t have to fit a script that suicide survivors have.
It can be easy to question all of your feelings. You might wonder why you didn’t cry or why you can’t stop. You might be angry or wonder why you aren’t angry when other people are. It might not feel real or it might feel like this is where things were always going. Your feelings don’t have to fit a script. You don’t have to put your feelings into a box. Feel what you really feel and let yourself feel it.
See a counselor specializing in suicide survivors.
Seeing a counselor can have such a negative stigma. Here’s the thing. There isn’t anything wrong with you. Instead, taking some time in counseling can help you to process the tragedy you are walking through. It’s not saying you are weak, it’s saying you can’t wrap your head around this thing that is bigger than you.
Seek out a counselor who has dealt with suicide-related loss in the past. They will have a stronger understanding of where you are and what you are processing.
Say their name and write the stories.
Don’t let the loss of that person be their definition. Instead, say their name. Tell the good stories. Write them down if you need to so that you have them. When the hurt and the overwhelm of the moment fades, you will want those good moments recorded so that you can treasure the person they were not the choice they made.
Speak up as suicide survivors!
After the initial season of loss, the pain will still be there but people will go back to their day-to-day lives. Speak up and tell them that you need them. Explain that you’re still struggling. You’re not a burden on people. They will help if they know they are needed. Give them the invitation so they can step up and help you.
A personal note to suicide survivors
I have been where you are more than once. I have lost people I loved to suicide. It’s going to feel like the world’s most impossible valley to walk through. You are not alone. You can do this. If I could tell you anything I would tell you the following things.
- Forgive them. – Their choice wasn’t about you. Forgiving them can free you in some ways from the guilt you might put on yourself.
- Grief doesn’t go away but it changes. – You will always have some level of grief over the loss of this person. Anyone who tells you time will take it all away doesn’t understand what it is to lose someone you loved.
- You added to their pile of good things! – One of my favorite quotes from Doctor Who says, “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”
You added to their pile of good things and that matters more than anything you blame yourself for.
Need more info about suicide? I wrote a post about the truth about suicide you may want to check out.
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS CONSIDERING SUICIDE PLEASE CALL THE SUICIDE HELPLINE. IN THE U.S. THE NUMBER IS 1-800-273-TALK. SUICIDE.ORG HAS A LIST OF LINES FOR OTHER AREAS IN THE WORLD. YOU CAN ALSO TEXT THE CRISIS TEXT LINE. TEXT HELLO TO 741741 TO SPEAK WITH SOMEONE. RIGHT NOW, THIS POST IS NOT THE ANSWER YOU NEED IF YOU ARE IN THE MIDDLE OF A CRISIS. REACH OUT TO SOMEONE WHO CAN HELP YOU. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
- Free Mental Health Resources for Teens
- The Truth about Suicide
- Reasons Not to Commit Suicide
- How do I talk to my kids about mental illness?
- Survivors of Suicide