After a suicide

“Coping with a suicide loss is brutally tough - but you can do it.”

Grieving the loss of a friend or a loved one, under any circumstance, is tough. But deaths by suicide can be even harder to understand, especially when the loss was unexpected. Suicide cuts lives tragically short, and has a profound impact on friends, family members, partners, and the larger communities a guy was a part of. 

It’s important to understand that the intense emotional pain of depression – when it’s at its worst – can make it almost impossible for someone to believe they can recover. Their despair can be relentless, with death seeming the only way to escape their pain. Understood in this way, suicide is recognized as reflecting the severity of one’s depression rather than any lack of will or effort to get better. 

Looking for one event or reason that led to someone’s suicide often isn’t possible and oversimplifies the severity of the illness they were facing.  Why someone ends their life is very complex and we may never understand all the factors that influenced a person to take such a desperate action. 

Suicide doesn’t reflect the person’s character, but rather gives us a sense of just how overwhelming their pain was.  The happy memories you have of the person are who they really were and that is what is important to hold on to. 

Struggling with suicide loss?

If you’ve lost someone to suicide, it’s normal to feel a wide range of overwhelming emotions. You may feel shocked, confused, angry, sad, and abandoned.

It’s also common to struggle with feelings of guilt, wishing you had noticed any warning signs or done more to help. It’s very likely though that the man you’ve lost was shielding you from how badly he felt, perhaps believing that he was protecting you from being burdened by him.

Whatever feelings you’re having, know that it’s OK and let yourself feel without judgement – that is extremely important, especially for people who may typically not like to show their emotions.  Allow yourself to grieve – feel it, confront it, process it. Expressing these emotions – whatever they are – keeps you from bottling things up and feeling worse in the long run. Just like going for a run can help relieve stress, releasing one’s feelings can do the same.

Though you may feel alone, there are others who have faced similar tragedies in their lives. You may want to check with your local mental health centre or search online for “suicide survivors” to find support groups in your area.

If more than a month passes without the intensity of these feelings lifting, it’s important to reach out for additional support with your doctor and/or a mental health professional.

Letting others know

The misunderstanding and stigma around suicide can make it hard for you let others know what happened – but this, in turn, makes it harder to receive support from your friends and family.  Being more transparent about the suicide death of your family member or loved one will help your friends and family members to fully support you, as they can better appreciate what you are going through.

Though every situation is different (especially when young children are involved), the vast majority of people are glad they opened up about the realities of the tragedy they are dealing with. Speaking about suicide also helps to open up important conversations about mental health, which may help others reach out in the future.

You don’t need to share any details around how the suicide took place, but simply acknowledging that the cause was suicide can help.

Supporting a friend

1. Let them know you’re there

Often what someone needs most is simply a shoulder to lean on and a friend to listen. Try saying something like:

  • “I heard about ____’s passing. How are you holding up?”
  • “No need to go through this on your own, let me know how I can help.”
  • “I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’m here if you need me.”

If they are not open to talking about what happened, be patient and give them space.

Sometimes a hug or a reassuring pat on the back is enough to let them know you’re there.

2. Create a safe space to talk about suicide

There is a lot of stigma around suicide and it can be very tough for your friend to talk about their loss. Your friend may be feeling a wide array of emotions, including guilt or anger.

Give your friend a chance to express what they are feeling and let them know you are someone they can be completely open with.

Try saying something like:

  • “I know it’s not easy to talk about, but if you need to let stuff out, I’m here to listen.”
  • “If you ever need anyone to talk to about ___’s suicide. Know that I’ll be there.”

Using the word “suicide” may be difficult but it shows you are acknowledging the full extent of their loss and that you are there for them.

If your friend begins to open up, let them do the talking. Simply allowing them to express their emotions and get things off their chest can be a huge help. Let them know that whatever they are feeling is okay.

If you’ve gone through a similar loss, you can also share what you’ve been through.

3. Follow up with them

Over the next few days, weeks, or months it will be important to remind your friend that you’re available to talk. They may be reluctant at first and some people might not want to, but just knowing you are there can also help.

If they are struggling, suggest seeking out professional support. Though you want to help your friend as much as possible, a therapist or support group will have much more experience in helping someone after a suicide. Try searching online for “suicide survivors” to find support groups in your area.

Reducing Stigma

One simple thing you can do to reduce stigma around suicide is avoid using the phrase “commit suicide”, and instead say “died by suicide”. Many media stations and non-profit organizations are taking this step.

Avoiding the word “commit” helps others who want to reach out for support, but are too afraid to admit they are thinking about suicide because it also feels illegal or sinful. When someone is thinking about suicide, the most important thing for them to do is to reach out and not feel judged.

Honouring a friend or loved one

The way you honour your friend or loved one is going to be unique to your relationship and the person who died, and there are many ways to do so. This can be an important part of the grieving process and help you to feel more at peace with your loss.  

Here are some ways others have honoured lives of those lost to suicide:

  • Gather and write down your thoughts in one place, then place them aside to revisit when you need to.  
  • Plant a tree in their honour or have a bench dedicated at a local park.
  • Make a donation or hold a walk or fundraiser for a cause the person cared deeply about.
  • Speak up and share mental health resources like HeadsUpGuys with others and encourage them to seek help when fighting depression. Preventing suicide is a tough fight – that’s why we’re here to help. If you wish to support our efforts, please consider making a donation in your friend’s or loved one’s honour or fundraise for HeadsUpGuys.

Your honouring also doesn’t have to be a one time event. Continue to speak and share stories about your friend and loved one. As you move forward with your life, don’t let their name or memory fade because of the stigma around how it ended.