To lose a friend or relative by suicide is tragic and can feel complicated and confusing. Very often coming as a complete shock without warning signs. The shock experienced when a loss by suicide is experienced can be intensely painful and enduring. It is not uncommon to have conflicting feelings of abandonment, rejection, betrayal and anger. The profound sense of loss felt around suicide may linger and hurt for a considerable period of time. Questions are very often left unanswered. It is not unusual for those left behind to feel responsible in some way for the death, what could they have done differently, what should they have noticed. Though ultimately the choice to end a life remains with the deceased.
For those left behind there are often many unanswered questions. How did this happen? What could have been done to create a different outcome? Why did we not reach out more, or if we did why did they not hang on? In the grieving process it is usual to get stuck in the loop of 'why' and 'if only'. Many of these questions may never be answered adding to the distress of those grieving. Confusion and upset can be deeply painful.
If the bereaved have witnessed the death or found the deceased they may experience additional distress including intrusive thoughts about the death, feelings of shame or guilt, even a shattered sense of safety in the world. There might also be experiences of nightmares and flashbacks.
In the UK if a death is considered sudden, violent or unnatural such as an accident, or suicide then the Coroner will undertake an investigation and there will be an inquest. This is sometimes a lengthy process that can be distressing for friends and family. Information about the death will be read out in court, funerals can be delayed, and inquests may be reported by the press.
Suicide is often viewed by society as a selfish act. Choosing to leave their life the deceased can be considered to be rejecting their loved ones. A kinder view might be to think of the suicide as the only perceived option by the deceased to their intolerable pain in that moment.
People often struggle to know what to say to the bereaved. In the case of a suicide knowing how to respond is further strained. For this reason, the suicide might be kept secret by family or friends, or at least some of the details are not shared. This can leave those mourning the loss to feel abandoned or ignored. The bereaved may also blame themselves or become preoccupied with feelings of guilt.
Bereavement can be a lonely place. Bereavement by suicide can leave those left behind feeling deep sadness, confusion, abandonment and even anger. It can be hard to rationalise and come to terms with the suicide. It is the sudden and shocking loss of the loved one and the loss of any future relationship with them. The deceased is no longer available to watch our lives unfold. It is no longer possible to talk to or meet up with the deceased. The answers they hold to our questions are also no longer available.
A psychotherapist can help support you with the intense pain and grief of bereavement by suicide. Recovery involves working through the pain, confusion and guilt. It can be a space to continue to talk and think about the decreased.
Samantha Merry is a private psychotherapeutic counsellor offering counselling and psychotherapy in Bromley Kent.