Caring for Someone Who is Grieving After Suicide

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Article Source: suicideline.org.au
Image Source:  Public Domain

 

Someone you know, whether it be a family member, friend, neighbour or work colleague has lost a loved one to suicide. You may be finding it difficult or awkward to know what to say or do for this person.

It is important to bear in mind that dealing with and responding to any type of grief experienced by another person can be difficult and that the stigma around suicide can make this process even harder. Furthermore, each person experiences and expresses their grief differently. There is no real time limit on when this person may process or resolve their grief.

This guide is intended to illustrate some of the key ways that you may be able to support a grieving person.

Keep in touch

Initial contact with the bereaved person could be made by phone after you hear of the death. You might find this call difficult to make, as many people feel at a loss as to what to say to a grieving person, and could even fear making the person feel worse. Death can be an extremely difficult circumstance to talk about. Be aware of your own feelings but don’t let them stop you making the call. It is the fact that you reach out and call that is important, rather than having the right words to say.

If the call appears to be unwelcome or you find that your offers of help are refused, be forgiving and try again later.
If a personal call can’t be made send a card or note. Words such as “thinking of you” may be enough to get your message of support across if you do not know what to write.

Maintain contact beyond the first few weeks. People bereaved by suicide often find that after the first few weeks support from family and friends tends to drop off and it is here that dealing with grief can often be a painful and isolating experience.

Listen

Listen to what the person has to say without judgment. Whilst you have your own opinions, it is important to put aside your own views and simply listen.

Know that you don’t need to provide answers for the causes or reasons behind the suicide.
Be patient if you find that the same story or questioning is relayed over and over again. This type of repetition is often a part of the grieving process.

Accept the intensity of grief

Be willing to sit with any silences and discomfort.

You may find that the grieving person expresses intense emotions such as anger towards themselves, to others or to the deceased. These types of intense emotions or outbursts are also apart of the grieving process and can be a normal reaction to grief.

You may wish to look up some of the common experiences and challenges faced by the bereaved on this website.

Avoid simplistic explanations or clichés

Avoid saying common or familiar expressions such as “you’ll get over it”, “cheer up” and “time heals all wounds”. The reality is that people don’t just get over it and that grief is a complex process which is different for each individual.
Saying words such as “you need to be strong” and “think of what you should be grateful for” are not constructive. These types of statements are not only hurtful for the bereaved but they also make grief more difficult to process.

Special Occasions and Anniversaries

Be aware of special occasions like birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries of the death which not only emphasis the absence of the bereaved but also serve as a particularly isolating and difficult time for the bereaved.

When talking about the deceased person it is helpful to use the person’s name as this shows that you have not forgotten them.

You might want to discuss what plans the bereaved person can put in place for these time periods so that they have some coping strategies to work with and support structures around them.

If you are unable to see the bereaved person face to face or speak to them over the phone, a card can be another powerful way to show your concern and convey you have not forgotten.

Be aware of cues for suicide

Grief reactions can be debilitating and may be marked by an increased risk of suicidality, self-harm, medical conditions, work absenteeism and impaired academic performance.
Don’t be afraid to ask the person who is grieving if they themselves are suicidal.
For assistance on how to frame the types of questions to ask the grieving person about their own risk of suicide you may want to call a suicide prevention service such as SuicideLine or read up on some of the information on this website about assessing suicide risk.

Create a balance

It is important to ensure that you are taking care of your own self and needs whilst supporting someone you know bereaved by suicide. You yourself may be feeling drained or experiencing your own grief whether from current or past circumstances.
Give yourself some space or time out for your own self care; think about what you have done in the past that has been self-soothing, calming or relaxing for yourself.

It is also important to call on your own support network such as friends, family or professional supports such as your local GP, a counsellor or psychologist, so you are not having to do this on your own. Seeing a counsellor or psychologist face to face may be able to assist you to work through any grief or other reactions you may be experiencing.

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