Have you experienced a death or bereavement by suicide?

A little while ago I was approached by the charity Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) to work with one of their clients who had suffered a fairly recent bereavement by suicide.  I feel really privileged to have been able to do the counselling work with the client after such tragedy and more recently, when a close friend and her family were affected by this very issue, it reminded me of the work I had done.  Whilst I do quite a bit of Bereavement Counselling, I wanted to share how bereavement by suicide differs from other bereavements.

Bereavement by suicide is often very sudden and can be quite unexpected.  It is not uncommon for people suffering depression and suicidal tendencies to appear to ‘be feeling a little better’ just before they take their own lives which can add to the level of trauma and shock for those left behind.

There is no right or wrong way to feel after a bereavement by suicide and you may notice changes in your thoughts and feelings that can be difficult to process on your own.  In my experience the way you feel can change depending on your age and the time that has passed as well as your level of understanding at that time; for example, if you lost someone to suicide when you were a child you may have different thoughts and feelings later in life when you have your own child.  You can expect that different life events may bring up different levels of understanding and feelings about what happened.  Some of the feelings you might experience can be difficult to acknowledge or to share with those around you, they can even feel inappropriate, but I am here to tell you they are perfectly acceptable under the circumstances.  Here are some thoughts or feelings that you may have after this type of loss:

  • Anger.  Feeling angry after a bereavement is a given and is very common in cases of bereavement by suicide.  Feelings of anger towards the deceased for leaving you, for the way your life has been affected.  You may feel angry at others and be looking to blame someone for what has happened or even feel angry at yourself for not seeing what was going to happen and act differently.  You may also feel angry at the deceased for the pain they have caused other family members (parents/children/in-laws) or friends.
  • Guilt.  You may experience guilt that you didn’t prevent the suicide and that you couldn’t help the person.   The guilt may also make you feel like a bad partner/person/friend/sibling/parent for not being able to protect the family from the pain that the suicide has caused to those left behind.  Guilt is a tough and debilitating emotion to carry around.
  • Disorientation and Yearning.  It may feel difficult to imagine a life without that person and you might find yourself doing uncharacteristic things to help you try to feel close to the person that you have lost; yearning for ways to get the person back and reset time so that you can help them sort things out is not uncommon.
  • Relief.  Yes ‘relief’ – there, I said it!  I know it feels completely in contrast to how you think you should feel, but knowing that your loved one is no longer suffering can bring with it a sense of relief.  Living your life from day to day never quite knowing what you will come home to and being afraid of leaving your loved one alone is a huge pressure – you may feel relief when you no longer have to live with the ‘threat’.
  • Shame.  Some people feel shame or embarrassment about what has happened; perhaps that people are judging them for not being able to keep the person safe or that they are a bad partner/parent/sibling/spouse because of what has happened.
  • Not worthy.  Bereavement by suicide can create a feeling of low self-worth or self-esteem, based on thoughts that you were ‘not worth sticking around for’.
  • Fear and Anxiety.  It is possible you may feel an increase in fear or anxiety after bereavement by suicide.  Perhaps you are worried about losing other people that are close to you or how other family members are going to cope with the loss.  This of course is another normal feeling in response to the death.

There are a whole range of other thoughts and feelings that you may experience in relation to what has happened and there is no time frame in which you might feel these.  What is fairly guaranteed is that you will feel a mix of some or all of them at some point at varying degrees and intensities.  It can be useful to seek support from someone such as SOBS who are able to provide assistance in the form of a helpline, local support groups and funding for your Counselling should you feel that’s what you need.

Bereavement is always a personal process there is no right and wrong way to feel – you feel how you feel!