Suicide and grief

Grief is a human and natural response to suicide.

It is a process that each person experiences differently. Grief is expressed in many ways and there is no specific timeline, however the pain should ease with time.

Grief in response to suicide can be particularly complicated. Feelings of guilt, shame, anger, regret and blame are very common, and some people can find it difficult to be open about the cause of death because of the stigma associated with suicide.

The intensity and complexity of grief can be affected by:

  • relationship with the person who died
  • the circumstances surrounding their death
  • existing coping strategies
  • available support networks

What does grief look like?

Grief can leave us feeling out of control and overwhelmed. Some of the experiences of grief following suicide might include:

Behavioural

  • Isolation and social withdrawal
  • Irritability and intolerance of others
  • Loss of interest, restlessness
  • Tearfulness

Cognitive

  • Confusion, forgetfulness, racing mind or poor concentration
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Sense of unreality
  • Repeated disturbing imagery, nightmares and intrusive thoughts

Emotional

  • Shock, disbelief, numbness
  • Sadness, helplessness
  • Distress, anxiety, fear
  • Shame, guilt, failure and regret that the suicide was not prevented 
  • Rejection and abandonment
  • Anger or blame towards the person who took their own life

Physical

  • Change in appetite
  • Change in sleeping; increased tiredness, insomnia
  • Tension headaches

Spiritual

  • Loss of meaning or direction
  • Questioning faith/beliefs
  • Searching for understanding, yearning
How do I recover from grief?

It's important not to expect too much of yourself in the early stages of grief. Some things to remember:

  • There is no wrong or right way to grieve
  • There is no specific timeline - let the process run its course
  • Give yourself and others permission to grieve
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help if you think you’re not coping.

In a family or group situation, the pain and hurt can make communicating difficult and conflict can arise. Keep communications open but also respect each other’s coping techniques.

Most people become aware that life will never be the same. Grief will subside and you’ll experience more frequent and longer periods of energy and hope. Memories will become less painful and the loved one who died will become part of life in a new way.

Activities to help with grief
  • Spend time alone to think, remember, pray, meditate, soul search and mourn.
  • Talk to a trusted 'other' who will listen with understanding to your thoughts and feelings.
  • Develop a resource list, phone numbers of people and places to contact when the going gets tough.
  • Find distractions, to provide time out from the pain.
  • Collect information, read simple books about surviving suicide, or about life enhancement, when you are ready.
  • Use physical nurture, massage, spa baths, early nights, and get some fresh air by going for short walks.
  • Keep treasures, a memory box, journal, photo album.
  • Create a memory book for family and friends to write stories, memories, messages.
  • Create or build a special memento for your loved one: a garden, a CD or DVD, photo album.
  • Eat a healthy diet, frequent small amounts of nutritious, easily digested food.
  • Exercise to boost energy or to use excess adrenaline.
  • Prioritise daily tasks, do only what is essential.
  • Use an answering machine, choose who you will talk to.
  • Record a message on your phone saying something like: “Thank you for your call. I appreciate it. I’ll get back to you when I can.”
  • Write notes to relatives and friends when you need to tell aspects of your story, or to express feelings.
  • Keep a journal to record your thoughts and feelings, especially if you are unable to sleep.
  • Spend time with nature.
  • Review pictures and mementoes.
  • Visit the burial site or some other special place.
  • Rearrange and store the person's belongings when you are ready to.
  • Attend individual counselling or a support group.
  • Find ways to honour the life of the person who has died.
Professional help and support
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Some of the content in this section was developed by Support After Suicide program of Jesuit Social Services and has been reproduced / adapted in partnership with Jesuit Social Services.

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