The Survivor Experience: Part 7: Shock

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Original Article from the Alliance of Hope 


It has been said that suicide is like a “grenade going off within a family or community,” In the aftermath, survivors are left pofoundly wounded and deeply distressed. Many grapple with debilitating emotions, altered relationships, and challenging responsibilities. Each situation is unique, but some issues are commonly shared by survivors.

Research tells us that it is helpful to know about common survivor reactions. Being informed does not make the reactions disappear. That will take time … a probably a good deal of grief-work. It will help though, to know that what you are feeling is commonly felt by other survivors and that it is possible to survive and go beyond just surviving. Over the next few days, we will bring you information about common survivor issues.


Suicide is a shocking event. It shatters our world and sends us reeling. We have no defenses that prepare us for the horror or losing a loved one by suicide. When it happens, we frequently feel confused, numb or empty of emotions.

For many survivors, the shock is exacerbated by additional traumas like searches, rescue attempts, discovery of the body or witnessing of the death.

During periods of shock, events seem unreal. We struggle to get out minds around what has happened. Confusion, disbelief and numbness are common. It may become difficult to eat, sleep or do routine tasks. This is a time to be gentle with oneself and let others help.

The duration of shock and confusion varies by survivor and is probably influenced by the degree of trauma as well as the individual makeup of the survivor. For some it lasts only days but it may go on for weeks or months.

Members of the Alliance of Hope Community Forum, frequently describe a sense of shock, disbelief and difficulty remembering key aspects of events:

“My 15-yr old son shot himself 10 days ago. My precious little man died in my arms with no reasoning as to why he did this. I’m not quite sure what world I’m in at this moment, but I hurt and ache all day every day. I think of him all the time, but I don’t think I have really accepted the fact that he’s gone. It feels like he’s at school or just at a friend’s house. We have moved out of our home where it happened and it makes me feel as though I’ve left him behind.”

“Is is normal to feel like you are just existing, no feelings at all, kind of numb? I feel as though I’m still in shock. I don’t think it has really hit me yet.”

“My husband hung himself two weeks ago. He told me he felt depressed 2 weeks before he died. I feel very, very sad at present and still cannot believe what he has done.”

“I ran out of my car, leaving my purse and hot coffee, and she ran out of the house screaming, he’s dead! he’s dead — and that moment is freeze-framed in my mind. the most horrifying moment. and i don’t remember feeling anything. i only cry in privacy. … i know every gory detail. … i replay it in my mind, the whole day. and i don’t feel a thing.”

“It has been 2 months since my husband hung himself in the back woods. … There were no signs and the circumstances are so surreal. I can’t talk about it to anyone and have trouble even thinking about why he killed himself.”

“I know this sounds strange, but … even though my husband shot himself about ten feet away from me, I don’t remember the details. I remember things like the blood soaking into his clothes and I can sometimes hear the shot but I don’t remember what it looked like. I remember people talking to me but I don’t remember what they were saying. I have thought about this before but again sometimes I get these flashes of my husband’s body but it doesn’t seem real.”


Click here to read other Parts of The Survivor Experience:

Part 1: Crisis of Faith
Part 2: Anger 
Part 3: Sadness, Depression and Despair
Part 4: Love
Part 5: The Journey
Part 6: Secondary Wounds
Part 7: Shock
Part 8: Stigmatization