GRIEF AFTER SUICIDE LOSS
Losing a loved one or a personal connection to suicide may be one of the most difficult life circumstances you will face. Defeat Suicide Foundation offers many resources that are meant to guide you, help you achieve peace, and have strength to carry on after a loss to suicide. Learn what you can do in the aftermath of a suicide to help yourself or someone else through the process of grief.
What You Need to Know
It’s ok to grieve
The death of a loved one can feel like sudden, unexpected and drastic amputation of a limb without any anesthesia. The pain cannot be described and no scale can measure the loss. We want so much for our loved one to return so that we can do something, and we ache knowing that it just can’t happen. You need to know that it’s okay to grieve.
It’s ok to cry
Tears release the flood of sorrow of missing the one you love. Tears relieve the brute force of hurting, enabling us to “level off” and continue our cruise along the stream of life. Shedding tears is not a sign of weakness-it is a sign of our human nature and emotions of deep despair and sorrow.
It’s okay to cry. It is okay to heal: We do not need to “prove” that we loved the person who has died. As the months pass we are slowly able to move around with less outward grieving each day. We need not feel “guilty”, for this is not an indication that we love less. It only means that, although we don’t like it, we are learning to accept death and it’s finality of the pain our loved one suffered. It’s a healthy sign of healing. It’s okay to heal.
It’s OK to laugh
Laughter is not a sign of “less” grief. Laughter is not a sign of “less” love. It’s a sign that many of our thoughts and memories are happy ones and our dear one would have wanted us to laugh again. It’s okay to laugh.
More On Grief
Grief is as old as mankind but is one of the most neglected of human problems. As we become aware of this, we begin to realize the enormous cost that it has been to the individual, to the families and to society, in terms of pain and suffering because we have neglected the healing of grief.
Essential to a grieving person is to have at least one person who will allow them and actually give them permission to grieve. Some people can turn to a friend or to a family member. Others find a support group helpful that will allow one to be the way one needs to be as they work through their grief.
Dealing appropriately with grief is important in helping to preserve healthy individuals and nurturing families, to avoid destroying bodies and their psyche, their marriages and their relationships. You can postpone grief but you cannot avoid it. As other stresses come along, one becomes less able to cope if one has other unresolved grief.
It requires a great deal of energy to avoid grief and robs one of energy for creative expression in relating to other people and in living a fulfilling life. It limits one’s life potential. Suppressing grief keeps you in a continual state of distress and shock, unable to move from it. Our body feels the effects of it in physical ailments. Our emotional life also suffers. Our spiritual life suffers. When this occurs we often hear it said that the person is “stuck in grief”.
When a person faces their grief, allows their feeling to flow, speaks of their grief, allows its expression, it is then that the focus moves from death and dying to promoting life and living. This is normal and okay, it is part of the grieving process.
Grieving the death of a loved one is an individual process. Some caregivers initially feel numb and disoriented, then endure pangs of yearning for the person who has died. Others feel anxious and have trouble sleeping, perhaps dwelling on old arguments or words they wish they had expressed. Sudden outbursts of tears are common in grief, triggered by memories or reminders of the loved one. Even those who are confident that their loved one is with the Lord struggle with sadness over their loss. Not all people grieve the same way or for the same length of time, but dealing with grief is essential in order to come to terms with the loss of your loved one and move on with your life. To do that, you need to be honest in your grieving and ask God the tough questions that help us mature.
The circumstances of your loved one's death can affect your grief. If a loved one suffered with a long illness, death is often considered a blessing. But the loss from suicide is unexpected and immediate.
Over time, the intensity of your grief will likely subside, but do not try to rush the grieving process. And do not expect your feelings and emotions to be like anyone else's. God made you unique, and your grieving process will be a personal journey. But keep in mind that the weight of grief is lighter when shared. Support from others can help you to handle the aftermath of your loss. God also offers comfort in times of bereavement. Jesus said, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you" (John 14:18 KJV).
Coping After the Funeral
When the funeral is a memory and your relatives and friends have returned to their busy lives, you may wonder how you are going to cope. If grief threatens to overwhelm you, try saying with the psalmist, "My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word" (Psalm 119:28 NIV). Cling to God's promises as you work through your grief. "He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength" (Isaiah 40:29 NKJV).
But how does a person "get over" the death of a loved one? How long after a loss should one still be grieving? It is generally agreed that there are four "tasks of mourning" every bereaved person must accomplish to be able to effectively deal with the death of a loved one:
Accept the reality of the loss.
Experience the pain of grief.
Adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing.
Take the emotional energy you would have spent on the one who died and reinvest it in another relationship.
Accepting the Loss
The first task, accepting the reality of the loss, involves overcoming the natural denial response and realizing that the person is physically dead. This can be facilitated by viewing the body after death, attending funeral and burial services, and visiting the place where the body is laid to rest. In addition, talking about the deceased person or the circumstances surrounding the death can be very helpful.
It is necessary to grieve the physical finality of losing a loved one and come to grips with the fact that you will not see that person again in this life. But the spiritual life goes on. If your loved one was a professing Christian, not only will you see him again in the life to come, but he is now in an immeasurably better place — in the Lord's presence, with no more pain or fear or sorrow. This is true for all who die in the Lord. "'And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.' Then He who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new'" (Rev. 21:4-5 NKJV). Therefore, we mourn for ourselves, not for our Christian loved ones. They are where we yearn to be.
Experience the Pain
The second task, experiencing the pain of grief, also confronts the denial that is so common in grieving persons. Many people try to avoid pain by bottling up their emotions or rejecting the feelings they are having. They may avoid places and circumstances that remind them of their loved one. They may try to take shortcuts through the grieving process, not admitting to the feelings of anger or denial that usually exist. However, the only way to move through grief is to move through it. It is impossible to escape the pain associated with mourning. The person who avoids grieving will eventually suffer from some form of depression, or even physical problems. Fully experiencing the pain — most often through tears — provides relief. Jesus wept over the loss of His friend Lazarus, even though He knew He was about to raise him from the dead; we, too, have permission to weep.
We all experience pain in this life, and the only thing worse than the pain of losing a loved one is the pain of never loving or being loved in the first place. In a way, the pain of grief is a gift to us because it is evidence of the presence of love.
The third task, adjusting to an environment in which the deceased is missing, requires the grieving individual to assume some of the social roles performed by the deceased, or to find others who will. For example, a grieving spouse may need help with household chores and cooking. Someone who never learned to drive must either learn how to drive or find other forms of transportation. The alternative is social withdrawal and sitting home alone. A person who dreads coming home to an empty house may find comfort in adopting a friendly pet.
The final task is taking the emotional energy you would have spent on the one who died and reinvesting it in another relationship or relationships. Many people feel disloyal or unfaithful if they withdraw emotionally from their deceased loved one. But the goal is not to forget the person who has died; it is to finally reach the point where you can remember your loved one without experiencing disabling grief.
Some find it impossible to invest in new relationships because they are unwilling to take the risk of feeling another loss. Others were so immersed in caregiving that, now that their loved one has died, they are not sure what to do. Still, investing time in friendships is important for many reasons. Old friends can reminisce about your loved one and also give you encouragement and permission to rebuild your life. New friendships allow you to being again as a person with a future — not just a widow, widower or survivor. For some, getting involved in a volunteer ministry provides structure, a sense of purpose and built-in companionship. Others swap phone numbers with new friends from grief-recovery groups.
Do not feel like you have to hurry to this stage. If attending a lighthearted party seems incongruous with your current state of mind, perhaps having coffee and conversation with a good friend would be a refreshing change of pace. Many surviving spouses enjoy focusing more time and energy on children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Do not rush into making major decisions or changes that could add stress to your life. Give yourself time and space to grieve. If at all possible, do not move for at least one year. You might benefit from setting aside an hour every day or two to "work" on grieving, especially if your loved one's death was recent. To do this, turn to caring family members or friends for support. Read a good devotional book, such as Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman (Zondervan 1997) or Quiet Moments for Caregivers by Betty Free (Tyndale 2002). You may also want to look in a Bible concordance for words like comfort or hope. As you look up the verses, meditate on each one and record it in a prayer journal. Allow God's healing words to sink in. Psalm 94:19 says, "In the multitude of my anxieties within me, your comforts delight my soul" (NKJV).