Coping with Suicide Loss

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Source:  American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Handling Holidays

Do what you think will be comfortable for you. Remember, you can always choose to do things differently next time.

  • Think about your family’s holiday traditions. Consider whether you want to continue them or create some new ones.
  • Remember that family members may feel differently about continuing to do things the way they’ve been done in the past. Try to talk openly with each other about your expectations.
  • Consider whether you want to be with your family and friends for the holiday, or whether it would be more healing for you to be by yourself or go away (this year).
  • Keep in mind that sometimes the anticipation of an event can be more difficult than the event itself.
  • If you find it comforting to talk about your loved one, let your family and friends know that; tell them not to be afraid to mention your loved one’s name.
  • Some survivors find it comforting to acknowledge the birthday of their loved ones by gathering with his/her friends and family; others prefer to spend it privately.
  • Some survivors have found the following ritual helpful for a variety of occasions:
  • Light two candles, and then blow one out. Explain that the extinguished candle represents those we’ve lost, while the one that continues to burn represents those of us who go on despite our loss and pain.
  • Simply leave the one candle burning (you can put it off to one side) for the duration of the holiday meal or event. The glowing flame acts as a quiet reminder of those who are missing.
  • Above all, bear in mind that there is no “right” way to handle holidays, anniversaries, or birthdays. You and your family may decide to try several different approaches before finding one that feels best for you.

Excerpted from Surviving Suicide Loss: A Resource and Healing Guide.

Survivors Share

These real-life examples show how survivors cope with the winter holidays in many different ways.

We found the best way to handle the holidays is to skip them entirely or at least downplay how we observe them. Our adult son completed suicide shortly before Thanksgiving and we went ahead with our customary extended family dinner as planned. Every detail from food shopping, through meal preparation, to sitting down to face that empty chair did nothing but exacerbate our bereavement. If I could do things over I would take only my immediate family out to dinner at a place with no connection to our son or simply order “take out.” Thanksgiving became a trigger for us and to this day we follow the advice that I gave above. –Tony

My husband and I spend holidays and birthdays honoring the memory of our daughter by serving meals for the homeless, donating to shelters, and helping other families who have had a loved one die by suicide. I’ve found over the past seven years that helping others is a good distraction for us, and at the same time we are helping others. – Judy

I lost my mother in November of 1986 and my sister on Halloween of 1994 to suicide. Anyone who has experienced this knows how devastating, disorienting and life-altering it can be. It was never easy dealing with the loss of either of them, particularly during the holidays, but eventually I was able to take back this time of year and reclaim it through celebration. My family has made Halloween a holiday that’s full of imagination and silliness. I still get a little sad sometimes leading up to the day, but once it’s here, I get wrapped up in the rituals, creativity and wonder of it all. It’s a matter of taking back, one step at a time, all that’s lost through suicide. –Jon

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