When You Lose Someone to Suicide
By Kelly Graham, MSW, RSW
The loss of someone close to you is never easy. When this loss occurs by suicide, it can add another layer to the grieving process. Just today, 10 people in Canada will commit suicide, 200 will attempt to, and millions of people will have suicidal thoughts. While some people are more at risk for committing suicide, such as people who have experienced trauma, it does not discriminate and can affect anyone. For every person that dies, there are people they leave behind who have to deal with the after effects.
The first thing you may feel is shock. You may not have even suspected that this was a possibility. They may have seemed happy, and you never knew that anything was wrong. Or you may have known that they were having a tough time but didn’t think that it would come to this. You may even become numb because of the shock. Once the shock wears off, then you may feel a variety of emotions.
One feeling that is mutual with death is sadness. Sad that the person is gone and no longer in your life; that you won’t be able to talk to them or touch them again. They’re leaving a big hole in your life that you have to try and heal. You may also feel sadness over how they died; that they chose to end their own life. You may feel sad that they were alone during their final moments, or that they felt so hopeless that they felt like this was the only way out. While sadness is what most people think grief is, there are also many other feelings that go with the death of a loved one, especially if they are lost to suicide.
Anger is also a common feeling after death. Not only being angry that the person is gone, but angry that they took their own life. You may be angry at them for committing suicide because everyone who cared about them is hurting, including you. You might think that what they did was selfish and that they should have fought harder, or done something else. If the person was receiving mental health treatment, then you may be angry at the providers for not preventing it; or even angry that the person could not access services to help them. If you knew the person needed help but refused to get it, you may be angry at them for that. You may even be angry at yourself for not being able to stop what happened. This leads to feelings of guilt.
Guilt is often felt after death, especially suicide. You might keep asking yourself what else you could’ve done, or how you could’ve stopped it from happening. If you weren’t aware of how the person was feeling, then you may feel guilty about not knowing. You may think you missed signs or clues, and that if only you noticed you could’ve stopped it; playing every last interaction over and over again in your head. The guilt can eat you alive, but it is important to remember that you cannot change what happened. What happened was not your fault, and to be able to heal you must let go of the guilt.
Something else you might feel is relief. You may even feel guilty for feeling relieved, but you feel relieved that they are now at rest and are no longer suffering. Perhaps helping the person was draining you mentally and physically, and part of you is relieved that it is over and you can rest. When someone is suffering from a terminal illness or dies from old age, it is easier to let yourself feel relieved. However, when somebody passes from suicide, and relief is often felt with guilt. Know that any feelings you have are normal. Relief is a common emotion when somebody who was in distress passes away. Be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up for what emotions you’re feeling.
While suicide can affect anyone, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding it. It is a topic that many people don’t want to talk about and end up ignoring because it brings up hard questions and uncomfortable feelings. Especially with people who are religious or from a religious background, being associated with suicide can bring up feelings of shame. The topic of suicide causes people discomfort, and this may even cause them to distance themselves from you because they don’t know what to say or how to act. People may also be afraid that talking about it may trigger others to try and commit suicide. While there has been more awareness raised about suicide to help reduce the stigma, it is still there. It is important to talk about it to help prevent more people from committing suicide and to help those who have lost loved ones. Even if it is uncomfortable to talk about, try and push past that feeling and be there for people who are grieving.
As I was in the process of writing this article, I learned that somebody I knew committed suicide. While we were not close, his death is still affecting me. I am feeling a variety of emotions, shock, anger, guilt, and sadness just to name a few. Shock because I did not know that this was a possibility for him. Anger because I wish there was more that could have been done to save him. Guilt because I feel like I should have reached out, done more to help him, or known what was coming, especially working in the mental health field. And sadness because a great person is gone from this world too soon, and his fiancée is left to pick up the pieces. I am just one of the hundreds, if not thousands of people he knew. If I am feeling this way, just think about how many other people are affected by his passing. Suicide affects many people, even people who you may not think it would.
What Can Help:
The important thing to know is that it is not your fault. You may constantly think “why did they do this” and “what else could I have done.” The harsh reality is that ruminating on these thoughts will not help. That person cannot be helped anymore. What you have to focus on now is healing, using this experience to learn and grow. Anger and hurt will become isolating if you let it overwhelm you. Don’t suffer on your own, talk to family, friends, or even a counsellor. The grieving process can be long and complicated, but it does get better. It may feel hopeless and dark right now, but there is hope. While that person may be gone, we can take care of ourselves and each other.
If you or anybody you know are having thoughts of ending your life, reach out and get help. For 24/7 support, refer to these resources:
Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Crisis Response
Crisis Text Line
Kids Help Phone (children and adolescents under age 20)
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. 2018. Suicide in Canada. Canadian Association
for Suicide Prevention. Retrieved from https://suicideprevention.ca/page-18154.
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