When I was 7, my father died by suicide. To say I was traumatized to learn that he hung himself with a tie would be an understatement. My mother, also experiencing this trauma, had no place where she could share her loss and the feelings of guilt and shame and anger that many survivors of suicide experience.
According to the Journal of Affective Disorders, about half of adults have been exposed to at least one suicide in their lifetime and about 35% experience some form of emotional distress. It is common to struggle with intense feelings of shock, rage, denial, disbelief, anger, rage, shame, and even relief.
Loved Ones Struggle With Their Own Suicidal Thoughts
It is important to note is that survivors are at significant risk of their own struggle with suicidal thoughts. Along with the overwhelming grief, they are dealing with things that need to be taken care of when a loved one dies (death certificates, visitation, burials, taking care of others.) Some may feel they should have done something to prevent their loved from hurting themselves- though the truth is, they did the best they could and there was nothing they could have done to prevent it.
Shame Grows If Feelings Aren’t Addressed
Shame, as we know, needs three things to grow: Secrecy, Silence, Judgement. It’s important for survivors to be able to talk and name what they are experiencing and feeling. When you start naming the cause of your shame and talking about it with people who have earned the right to hear you, can grow.
Personal Strength & Growth
If you or someone you know someone is a survivor, it is possible to grow. This can be done thru connection with others, seeing new possibilities, capitalizing on one’s personal strength and having a positive view that life can be better through creating post traumatic growth.
There are several things a survivor can keep in mind to help cope with the pain.
- Remember that your loved one’s life is about more than their suicide.
- Think about the happy times
- Recall the unique aspects of their personality
- Celebrate their achievements
- Accept your emotions
- Anger is as valid as sorrow
- Doubt and confusion are normal
- What-Ifs can plague you – make a list of “I dids” instead
- Expect emotional ups and downs
- Healing is rarely linear.
- A difficult day can show up even after you think you’re doing okay
- Even after years, holidays, birthdays, and various life events can trigger your emotions – this is normal
- Shock can make the most routine tasks seem impossible
- Going to work or doing the dishes – or even showering – can seem insurmountable. Give yourself some grace, but also make a plan to e care of these things
- Take care of your physical well-being
- Eat well
- Exercise regularly
- Get enough sleep
- Go outside
- Don’t’ self-medicate – the temptation to turn to alcohol or drugs as an answer to your pain is a false hope. You will still feel the pain of your loss and will bring new problems to deal with.
- Seek professional help
- You don’t have to do this alone
- Individual or group therapy
Resources for you and your clients include:
- Falling Up: A Memoir of Renewal – Louise A. Stanger, Ed. D, LCSW
- I share personal stories infused with a spark of human experience we collectively share — hope. You’ll follow my story from awkward little girl to fearless adult, through family tragedies and triumphs, mental health and substance abuse disorders, daring you to reflect and own your story.
- We all fall, and with strength and courageous action, the journey takes us up.
- Understanding Your Suicide Grief – Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD
- The Gift of Second-Healing From the Impact of Suicide – Brady Lidbeck
- Supporting Children After a Suicide Loss: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers – Susan S Montgomery LCSW-C & Susan M Coale, LCSW-C
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s “I’ve Lost Someone” page has articles and resources for suicide survivors.
Growth Is Possible
As a survivor, I know first-hand that post-traumatic growth is possible. Sometimes the road is long and bumpy.
As a social worker, I am excellent at finding resources for your clients, for you or your loved ones. Feel free to reach out with additional resources or with your questions and concerns. I know that together we will make a positive difference.