How to cope with the suicide of a loved one

When someone you know suicides, you’re likely to feel a rollercoaster of emotions. Although it's tough facing such a big loss, there are things you can do to get through it, and there are people that can help you if you’re having a difficult time coping.

This could be helpful if:

  • Someone has committed suicide and you’re not sure if what you’re feeling is okay
  • You want to know how to deal with the loss of a loved one
  • You think you may need help handling your grief

It’s normal to feel a lot of things, all at once

When coping with the suicide of a loved one, it’s normal to feel a range of emotions. You may be experiencing:

  • Shock
“This can’t be happening.” Right after loss, it can be hard to accept what happened.  You may feel numb or want to deny the truth.  Shock can be healthy; it protects you from the initial pain of the loss, helping you get through things. 
  • Anger
“How could they do this to me?” You may feel angry with your loved one, yourself, or medical professionals who couldn’t help.  It’s normal to feel angry, but you shouldn’t try to ignore or hide it.  Instead, try to talk through it and understand your feelings.

  • Confusion
“Why is this happening?” You may not understand why the suicide happened, and that’s okay.  It's hard, sometimes impossible, to understand why someone would want to suicide if you've never been in that mindset before. It may even be best to accept that you'll never entirely understand instead of forcing yourself to come to a conclusion that you understand. Instead, focus your energy on accepting and coping with your feelings. 
  • Guilt
“Why didn’t I notice something was wrong?” Try not to criticise yourself about your behaviour toward the victim and realise that it is not your fault. It can be difficult to predict if someone you know is contemplating suicide. No matter how hard you try, you'll never know for sure if or when a person is planning on suiciding. Know that feeling guilty is completely normal, because we often blame ourselves when things go wrong. But it's also not something you carry around with you. 
  • Despair
“I’m too sad to do anything” Loss by suicide is traumatic, and you have to give yourself time to grieve.  You will start to feel better if you allow yourself to heal over time.

If you’re going through any of these emotions, it may help to know that your reaction is normal, and that you will heal.  Remember that there isn’t a typical response to loss, because there isn’t a typical loss; grieving is as individual as our experiences.

How do I work through this?

There are things you can do to make dealing with death an easier process:

  • Accept your feelings.  People experience all kinds of emotions after a death, some may be unpredictable, but they're all valid.  Realise that you’ll be dealing with a range of emotions, and you're allowed to feel the things that you do.
  • Take care of yourself and your family.  Eating well, exercising, and getting plenty of rest will help you get through each day and move forward. Take it one day at a time- focusing on small tasks will make the whole process a lot easier and what may feel like an impossible situation, will soon get better. 
  • Reach out and help others deal with the loss.  Sharing stories can help everyone cope, and helping others will have the benefit of making you feel better as well. Speak to other people in your life that are also grieving or who you can trust. Sharing thoughts and feelings will help you feel less alone, and remind you that there are people out there who are here to support you.
  • Remember and celebrate the life of your loved one.  Honour your relationship in a way that feels right to you – you could plant a garden in their memory, donate to their favourite charity, or frame photos of fun times. Try and remember the best moments you shared together.

Getting professional help

There’s nothing wrong in recognising that you need help coping.  Sometimes the pain of a suicide can be too much to handle alone, and there are people who know how to help.  A mental health professional is trained to help people deal with grief, guilt, or anxiety that can be associated with the death of a loved one.  You should contact a grief counsellor or professional therapist if you:

  • Blame yourself for the loss of for failing to prevent it
  • Feel numb and disconnected for more than a few weeks
  • Are unable to perform your normal daily activities

It can be hard to know where to find the right support you need. ReachOut NextStep is an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with. Try ReachOut NextStep to learn about the support options available for you.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 04 May, 2016
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