Supporting Survivors of Suicide



Suicide and its Aftermath

A parent said

“Losing my son was painful enough, but the whispers, feeling like a leper,
being avoided, having people not look at me in the eye,
having people act like nothing happened, never mentioning the death,
changing the subject, people being afraid it’s contagious,
as if they touch me or reach out to me, it may happen to them ……. is almost worse”.

Be patient with yourself, and with others who may not understand.


Supporting Survivors

Survivors of suicide are victims of an intensely traumatic event. Support and contact with survivors needs to be made within 24 hours of suicide. Pathological grief reactions by survivors are common when a death is both sudden and unexpected.

Edward Dunne stated that Throughout years of counselling survivors, I have seen that survivors are:-

• Driven by the "why" of suicide

• Survivors feel intense guilt

• There is a stigma - whether real or perceived

• Grief - it is both complex and intense

Following the suicide of her son, Iris Bolton wrote a compilation of suggestions for survivors.

1. Know you can survive, you may not think so, but you can
2. Struggle with WHY it happened until you no longer need to know why, or until you are satisfied with partial answers.
3. Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings but all your feelings are normal

4. Be aware you may feel appropriate anger at the person, at the world, at God, at yourself. It’s OK to express it.
5. You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do. Guilt can turn into regret through forgiveness.
6. Having suicidal thoughts is common. It does not mean you will act on those thoughts.
7. Remember to take one moment or one day at a time
8. Find a good listener with whom to share. Call someone if you need to talk.
9. Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are healing
10. Give yourself time to heal
11. Remember, the choice was not yours. No one is the sole influence in another’s life.
12. Expect setbacks. If emotions return like a tidal wave you may only be expressing a remnant of grief, an unfinished peace
13. Give yourself permission to get professional help
14. Be aware of the pain of your family and friends.
15. Set your own limits and learn to say no.
16. Steer clear of people who want to tell you how or what to feel.
17. Know that there are support groups that can be helpful, such as Compassionate Friends or Survivors of Suicide Groups. If not, ask a professional to help start one.
18. The willingness to laugh at others and at yourself is healing.
19. Wear out your questions, anger, guilt or other feelings until you can let them go. Letting go doesn’t mean forgetting
20. Know that you will never be the same again, but you can survive and even go beyond just surviving.

You may want to talk to others about the suicide but don’t know how they will react! What do you tell them?
In getting the support of others you will need to decide who and what to tell of the suicide. How you view suicide yourself will affect what you say and who you tell. You may be afraid that others will judge you harshly.

If you feel ashamed then you will most likely not want to tell others. You may feel responsible for the death – for what you did or did not do for the person who has died. You may feel anger at the dead person. This can make you feel guilty. However it is important to realize this is a natural reaction. Many emotions will be felt at different times. This is a normal response to loss and is part of the grieving process.

Some will want to convince the survivors that it was not suicide. Others will want to avoid talking about the person as if they had not existed or to “jolly” them out of their grief. This is perhaps to do with their own discomfort with witnessing distress or avoidance of their own disturbing feelings associated with the loss.

Why are some of my family not able to comfort me?
Family members will have different ways of grieving and these differences may lead to tensions and misunderstandings.
It may even be that you or other family members begin to feel suicidal yourself. It is nothing to feel ashamed of. Many people feel this way when something terrible happens in their life. It is important though that help is found. Speak with your doctor or ring a helping agency such as Lifeline to find the right help for you. You will find some numbers to contact on the "getting help" page of this site, alternatively you could make contact with a survivors of suicide support group (see link at bottom of page).
Young people in particular stand to benefit from the inclusion of their peers in the grieving process of the family.

What about children? What should they be told?
Special difficulties may arise around how to tell children about a suicide death. It is natural to want to protect a child from distressing information. It may seem that in order to protect them from hurt it is best to avoid the truth.
Children will observe what is going on around them. If what they are told is different from what they see or overhear they will be further confused. They will fill in any missing information with their own. This may even be more harmful than the truth. They may even believe that they are responsible – “I didn’t love mummy enough” “I was too naughty” etc.
It is very important for children to receive attention and support following a death.

What do I do with the belongings?
You need to take time to look at alternatives rather than act rashly and irretrievably. You may want to keep certain belongings as a comfort as the grief intensity changes and give away others as a way of saying goodbye.

I can’t bear to stay in the house. What should I do?
If possible it is often best to delay any major life decisions for some time after the death to be clearer about the decision and its ramifications.

I can’t face making financial decisions!
A trusted family member or friend may be able to assist. A financial adviser may also be needed to help with decisions about financial management.
Insurance policies need to be followed up.
Some policies will exclude suicide as a claimable event. This will most likely be upsetting. You will need to be prepared for this.
Who can help you with this? Maybe a friend or a relative can make the enquiries for you if you feel unable to do it yourself.

What is a coroner’s report?
The police are required by the coroner’s office to investigate all deaths from unnatural causes (including suicide). Through an inquiry or inquest, the Coroner makes a legal finding on the nature and cause of any sudden death. Requests for a copy of the report need to be sent to the coroner’s office with name and address of the doctor or the person requesting it, along with details of the deceased and date of the death.

“I often compare the act of suicide to that of a stone tossed into a pond. The splash may be large or small, however it always send ripples in every direction, in a concentric washing of every floating leaf, twig or water bug. The stone sinks out of sight but its impact is felt by the widening ripples.” (Bolton I. (1983) Indiana)


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Survivors of Suicide Bereavement Support Association Inc