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A Suicide Survivors Guide for Grieving; Based on Personal Experience

Updated on April 24, 2016
Photo by Author
Photo by Author

One of the most painful ways to be left behind by a loved one is through suicide. A suicidal death leaves “survivors of suicide” or “suicide survivors” (those loved ones left behind) feeling numb and confused, as well as feelings of intense anger, disorientation, rage, fear, guilt, shame, rejection and anxiety as a result of the trauma the death creates. These are very normal reactions to an abnormal event.

When I was left behind as a survivor of suicide there wasn’t much information available on how to deal with such a situation, and talking about it with others often left them feeling uncomfortable and unable to support me through such a traumatic experience.

I felt abandoned, deeply hurt, lost in a fog and all alone to endure the pain of my loss. That is why I have chosen to write this article; as I hope to help others who may have also sadly experienced the loss of someone they love through suicide.

When news of a suicidal death is first received, there tends to be some disbelief and denial. I actually found the body of my loved one, yet there was still a part of me that didn’t believe it was true. I expected it to end up a cruel joke intended to teach me a harsh lesson. Though that in itself seems cruel, at that time it seemed like a good exchange for the reality of the situation, which took some time and much verification to sink in.

Once the reality of the death sinks in, the pain becomes so horrible that a survivor may feel like they can never live or enjoy life again. It is common for a suicide survivor to feel suicidal themselves, which can be a very scary feeling, especially after knowing how much pain it leaves behind to do so.

Undoubtedly, the pain will be around for a long time. But you will go on, taking it one day at a time, or even hours or minutes at a time. Some days will seem like they didn’t even occur and you’ll tend to forget events that happened throughout your day. I recall wondering if I actually stopped at red lights coming and going to work, because my mind and emotions were not on the present and my memory was hazy. But as time passes… much time, the pain will become less of a dominant factor in your days. Be patient with yourself and don’t allow anyone to convince you when you should be done grieving. Only you can know when you are done.

Once I processed the loss, I began to ask why. It seems like such an extreme solution to temporary problems that can be solved in other ways. It is normal to keep asking questions until you have come to terms with the answers, or the lack of answers, you have come up with.

After my loved one took his life, I tore apart the house, looking in every spot in every area seeking answers; hoping that he left anything that would help me to understand why. The thing about suicide is that even if we have answers, this is never an easy question to answer or understand.

The endless strings of “If only I had done this or hadn’t done that, maybe he wouldn’t have taken his life” haunted me for a very long time. To this day, I still have a tendency to wonder “what if I....” What can make things worse are when other people displace their own guilt by placing blame on you.

It is quite a common occurrence with suicide survivors to place blame on themselves or others for the suicide. While it is normal to want to find someone to blame, and though the situation is difficult to understand, it is important to recognize that the person who died by suicide is the only one who can be properly blamed; as they are the one who has made this decision.

Some people felt I should have felt more anger over my loss than I did. I guess I should have been angry; leaving loved ones behind like that was not a loving thing for him to do. But, I was never angry at him. Instead I felt pity for the pain he must have been feeling to make such an extreme decision as this. These feelings only lead me back to the feelings of guilt. But for many, anger is a very normal part of their grieving process. If nothing else, you may displace your anger towards others.

Seek support from counseling, support groups, books, your faith leader, friends or family who fully understand your grief and who exhibits compassion and patience allowing you to talk through your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Those who do not provide the support you need may only serve to hold you back from your grieving and healing process. On the other hand, remember that other friend and family survivors will be experiencing their own pain. So it is equally important to be patient with them as well. In the resources below this article, you will find some ideas for support of suicide survivors.

Take the grief-work process slowly. Don't force the emotions, pains and memories aside before you're ready to do so. Don’t be afraid to cry; tears are a natural way to grieve and to heal. But on the other hand, don’t feel bad for smiling and laughing. You are still alive, so it is good to enjoy such pleasantries, which is also healing. Know that your emotions will come in and out of different phases as different memories and emotions come and go. So what you feel one minute may be quite different the next. These shifts in emotions also tend to bring on headaches, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances and periods of "unreality." These are quite common to experience and do not mean that you are going crazy.

Refrain from making major decisions in your life shortly after the death. Your grief may distort your ability to handle changes and to make sound choices. Despite your grief, feelings of depression and lack of interest to do so, realize that it will be important for you to take as good of care of yourself as you can.

Know that you will never be the same again, but you can survive and go beyond just surviving.


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    • Mary Merriment profile image

      Mary Merriment 4 years ago from Boise area, Idaho

      Thank you so very much for your positive input and your support gsidley. It is very much appreciated.

    • gsidley profile image

      Dr. Gary L. Sidley 4 years ago from Lancashire, England

      What a powerful and moving account of a terrible loss.

      I've been fortunate enough not to have lost a close friend or family member to suicide, but I have worked with many survivors and have worked with patients with mental health problems who have later committed suicide. It is undoubtedly the most difficult bereavement to cope with and I believe your article has made a positive contribution to supporting those who have experienced it - indeed, the comments you have received are testimony to the helpfulness of your words.

    • profile image

      angie 4 years ago

      Its been 4 months now since i lost my boyfriend the love of my life to suicide.He was the best and he had had thoughts of suicide before i came along and never mentioned it afterward. We had our problems like all couples and i miss him.But we were soulmates and I feel he's finally at peace and though I may suffer,He's with his grandma,his dad he loved and left him a 11.I just know he's at peace. I will never forget him and thanks for your article because I've been shutting grieve out but now realize I have to deal with this like it or not.Love you,Gary Elliott

    • Mary Merriment profile image

      Mary Merriment 5 years ago from Boise area, Idaho

      jpesch1, I think dealing with a loss through suicide takes a toll on many. The closer one may have been to that person, the harder the toll. Even though you were divorced, you did share a relationship and a life together. The bad thing about suicide, is that most people seek someone to blame and often, many place part of that blame on themselves. It is a tough experience to go through. When I wrote this article, I said I had not experienced anger towards my loved one. Well, over the past year, I finally did... 20 years later. The trauma of this kind of loss can have a tendency to linger long & harshly upon those left to deal with it.

    • jpesch1 profile image

      Jane Peschel 5 years ago from Currently living in Franklin, Wisconsin

      Interesting how I happen upon this hub after it has been here for 2 years. I started writing in Hubpages just this year and one of my hubs deals with the loss of my first husband to suicide. I, however, had divorced him and carried the guilt of that for years. This year, 18 years later, I am finding my way to a different place, a place of acceptance and more than that, a place of appreciation for his contribution to my life. It took me 18 years!

    • Mary Merriment profile image

      Mary Merriment 6 years ago from Boise area, Idaho

      Thanks for your shares. It is so nice to hear how others manage through such a very difficult time.

      Many hugs!

    • profile image

      karen wat 6 years ago

      There is no easy way out of survivor's guilt - I lost my boyfriend to suicide and had NO IDEA! Was told repeatedly I should've known, seen the signs, etc. yet no one else saw any signs of trouble either. What I have learned is that ultimately the decision to commit suicide is at the hand of the individual and I work every day at moving forward and forgiving Jon and forgiving myself for not being able to help. I actually put some of his ashes inside a small keychain and had his picture laser engraved on the surface and that has given me more comfort than I had anticipated. My heart goes out to all of you - it's so much harder than what people realize.

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      Sarah 7 years ago

      I lost my husband 4 months ago to suicide. Yesterday was the 4 month anniversary and I just miss him so much. We have a now 11 month old little boy. He is what is keeping me going right now. Thank you for writing this article. It is helpful to read of others journeys in dealing with a loved ones suicide. I find it hard to find good information or support. I have so much guilt right now. My husband's family is blaming me and wont even talk to me now. That adds tremendously to my grieving. Everyone keeps saying it will gets easier, but it just seems to get harder. What hurts the most is that our son will never have a dad or even have a memory of him. I hope that one day I can get to "beyond just surviving"

    • Jen's Solitude profile image

      Jen's Solitude 7 years ago from Delaware

      Mary Merriment, thank you so much for this well written and extremely helpful expression of what it feels like to be one of the survivors of a loved ones suicide. It hasn't quite been a month yet since my friend took her life and I am so glad you identified one of the emotions I have been having the most trouble with - REJECTION. As soon as I read this, I realized it is one of my main emotions right now. One that I need to really think about and come to terms with. I appreciate so much that you could identify and share the process with all of us who read this. Thanks for your help, it means a lot right now!

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      Jeannie 7 years ago

      Mary, thank you for writing this article. The one I used to love dearly took his own life recently and I am dealing most of the emotions you have written about, like you, I do not have anger but the pity of the pain he must have went through...that have saddened me the most and of course many "what ifs" right now.

      Thank you again, please take care.

    • profile image

      Jane Galbraith 7 years ago

      Good for you for writing this!!! You are saying what needs to be expressed. I have written a book on grief called Baby Boomers Face Grief and there is a lot in it about the way our society does NOT do grief well. We don't allow people to talk about their feelings and therefore make the process of healing more difficult.

      Surviving a suicide has it's own unique issues but there are some common ones that are with any grief experience. I could go on and on - I do presentations to workplaces to educate both staff and management and hopefully inspire them to change their corporate culture about grief. I also speak to community groups trying to get a message out about changing how we deal with grief in our culture.

      Good for you to write about this - the more we talk about this subject the faster our reactions will be to change.

      Jane Galbraith

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      stephaniep 7 years ago

      Mary, you beat me to it. I was going to write a Hub on being a suicide survivor but after having read yours, I decided you did a great job. The information you provide is very helpful.

      In just a few weeks, it will be 12 years since my brother took his own life and not a day passes that I don't think of him. At the time, I didn't do anything about it but just mourned and then came the guilt. People in my family hardly ever talk about him like he never even existed.

      I do still mourn but I've accepted it now not as a personal assault on me and my family. After having done therapy and reading books on surviving suicide I can honestly say that the passing of time and understanding my feelings has helped.

      Alas, pain is still there, a faint dull ache that I try not to think about.

      Best to you in recovery,

      Stephanie P.

    • profile image

      Loli Patterson 7 years ago

      i enjoyed reading your article, my dad committed suicide 5months ago and I have been feeling very alone, to read someone elses experience is in a way comforting, thankyou

    • profile image

      Steven 7 years ago

      Good luck with yourself. I will be praying for you!

    • BeBrown profile image

      BeBrown 7 years ago

      Although I cannot begin to understand how somebody in this situation would be going through, losing a loved one can be trying under normal circumstance. It takes a lot of courage to write about this subject. Thank you for doing so.