Losing a loved one to suicide is a traumatic experience. Individuals who have lost a loved one to suicide can experience a form of grieving that is especially intense. This experience can be further exacerbated by societal stigma around suicide. Stigma around suicide is a major reason why there is judgement and isolation when people grieve. It is also a reason why suicide loss survivors don’t share their feelings with others. Many who have lost someone to suicide have a broken heart, clinically called stress cardiomyopathy, and really need empathy, compassion and understanding to heal.
Ways to help a survivor of suicide loss
If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, there are many things you can do. In addition, by reaching out, you also help take stigma out of the equation.
Acknowledge the death
Extend your condolences; express your feelings of sorrow. Though they may not be ready to accept help, asking signifies that you are there—not avoiding or distancing during this tragic event. The notion of being there, if needed is extremely comforting for survivors.
Be sensitive around important dates
Events, festivals, anniversaries, birthdays may bring forth memories of the lost loved one and emphasize this loved one’s absence. Offering support and checking on them during these days helps with coping and brings greater wellbeing.
Be accepting of however survivors need to express their feelings. It may be with silence, with sadness or even anger.
Be a compassionate listener. This means doesn’t look to fix things. The greatest gift you can give someone you care about who has survived a suicide loss is your time, reassurance and love.
Grief is not linear
It is important to acknowledge that some people go through grief in various ways; it is not a linear phase but filled with ups and downs. Don’t set a time limit for a survivor’s grief. Complicated grief can take years to process. Moreover, don’t limit a survivor’s need to share and repeat stories, conversations or wishes. Repetition is a key factor in grief recovery.