Here are some tips for supporting a grieving suicide Survivor
LISTEN WITH COMPASSION
*Accept and acknowledge all feelings
(Let the grieving person know that it is ok to get angry; to break down. It is ok to cry. Grief is emotion, so we suicide survivors need to feel free to express our feelings without fear of judgment, criticism or argument.)
*Be willing to sit in silence.
(It is a true comfort to a survivor to simply be in your company. Offer eye contact, a squeeze of the hand or a reassuring hug.)
*Let the bereaved talk about how their loved one died.
(Those grieving may need to tell their story over and over, sometimes in painful detail. Repeating the story is a way of processing and acceptance. Pain lessens with each retelling.)
*Offer comfort without minimizing the loss.
(Again, the emphasis is on listening and asking the other to tell you how they’re feeling. Avoid hollow reassurance.)
OFFER PRACTICAL ASSISTANCE TO A SUICIDE SURVIVOR
Just as we might in the aftermath of any death, we may offer to –
- Shop for groceries or run errands
- Drop off a casserole or other food
- Stay to take phone calls or receive guests
- Help with insurance forms or bills
- Help with housework like cleaning or laundry
- Watch their children or pick them up from school
- Drive them wherever he or she needs to go
- Go with them to a support group meeting
- Accompany them on a walk, lunch, or movie
PROVIDE ONGOING SUPPORT
* Our ongoing support may be more important at this time than ever.
(Stay in touch with the grieving person, periodically checking in, dropping by, or sending letters or cards.)
(Don’t make assumptions based on outward appearance; some may be struggling on the inside.)
*Avoid saying things like “You are so strong” or “You look so well”. Also avoid comments like “He/She is in a better place now.” Or “This is behind you now; it’s time to get on with your life.”
(These comments are well intended, but put pressure on the survivor to keep up appearances and to hide true feelings.)
*The pain of this loss may never fully heal.
(Life may never be or feel the same. You don’t get over the death of a loved one. The suicide survivor may learn to accept the loss. Pain may lessen but sadness may never completely go away.)
*Offer extra support on special days.
(Holidays, family milestones, birthdays and anniversaries often reawaken grief. Be sensitive on these occasions. Let the person know you are there for whatever they need.)
WATCH FOR WARNING SIGNS OF DEPRESSION
*It is common for a suicide survivor to feel depressed. Or to feel confused and disconnected from others, or that they are going crazy.
(If the bereaved symptoms don’t gradually fade —or they get worse with time- this may be a sign that the grief has become a more serious problem, such as clinical depression.)
*Encourage suicide survivor’s to seek professional help if any of the following warning signs are observed after the initial grieving period:
- Difficultly functioning in daily life
- Extreme focus on the death
- Excessive bitterness, anger or guilt
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Inability to enjoy life
- Withdrawing from others
- Constant feelings of hopelessness
- Talking about dying or suicide
FINALLY, STAY CLOSE
*Families often feel stigmatized and cut off after a suicide.
*From the Harvard Women’s Health Watch, July 2009, Left Behind After Suicide:
“If you avoid contact because you don’t know what to say or do, family members may feel blamed and isolated. Ignore your doubts and make contact. Survivors learn to forgive awkward behaviors or clumsy statements, as long as your support and compassion are evident.”
Grief works at its own pace.