What You Need to Know When Your Loved One Commits Suicide
I have written a lot about what to do before, during and after a suicide attempt. I guess that’s because the people who read my work are the survivors and the loved ones, mostly, of suicide survivors.
But there’s a very underserved community in conjunction with suicide and that is the loved ones left behind by suicide. They are suicide survivors too. These people are left with a void. These people are left with a hole in their hearts and a hole in the information that’s available. But there are things I think you should know if your loved one commits suicide.
1. His (or her) suicide is not your fault.
This is a big one. Huge. You have to understand that no matter how it happened, the suicide is not your fault. You didn’t force him to pull the trigger. You didn’t make him gulp down bottles of pills. You didn’t push him off the building. At every turn your loved one could have made a different choice, but he didn’t. In the end, your loved one chose to end his pain in the way he saw best at that moment in time. He took his life; you didn’t. Even if the last thing you did was scream at him – that didn’t cause his suicide. Only he did that.
His suicide was about him, not you. His suicide is not your fault.
2. You’re going to be angry with, and hurt by, the person who killed himself.
When a person dies you feel loss and you mourn that loss but mourning a loss due to suicide is more complicated because there are so many contradictory feelings in play. You feel guilty because you didn’t do more. You feel hurt because he didn’t come to you. You feel angry that the person won’t be there at your wedding. You feel profound sadness that this person is no longer in your world.
And so on, and so on, and so on. The feelings pile up one on top of each other until you’re standing on a hill of confusion, seemingly, with no way down.
This is normal. Those horrible things you’re thinking about the victim of the suicide? Normal. Feeling angry? Normal. Feeling hurt, loss, sadness, guilt? All normal, normal, normal, normal. In short, whatever you are feeling is normal for you. It will hurt and it will be confusing but you will work through it.
3. You’re probably never going to understand why someone you loved chose to commit suicide.
There are exceptions to this, I guess, in pockets, but predominantly, you’re just not going to understand what drove that person you loved to commit suicide at that moment. You’re not going to understand why he didn’t call a helpline. You’re not going to understand why he didn’t reach out to you or someone else and say he was suicidal. You’re not going to understand why, of all the moments, he chose that one to end his life. I can tell you that it had to do with ending pain, but that’s about all we know.
You’re just not going to understand his suicide – you can’t. It’s not possible. Even if you were one of the few that were left a suicide note, you still won’t understand all the deep questions that come up. Sometimes we need to learn that there are no answers, only painful questions.
4. You will try to look for the logic behind your loved one’s suicide.
Because you’re a thinking, feeling, rational human being, you will try to look for the logic behind your loved one’s suicide. You won’t be able to find this logic because suicide is not a rational, logical choice. Acting on suicide only makes sense in the mind of someone who is in such extreme pain that most would find it unfathomable. The logic exists in the illness and if you don’t suffer the same way, you’re likely never going to see it.
5. The pain from suicide will get better.
The emotions will be almost unbearably painful and they will seem to swallow you whole – but that won’t last forever. The anguish that you feel will lessen. The outrage that you feel will quell. You will heal from this wound that feels impossible to heal from. Grief often feels like the end of the world but it really never is. It’s just an interruption to your world. A horrible, nasty, massive, painful, angry interruption – but one that won’t last forever. I promise.
While You’re Processing the Emotions of Suicide
And while you’re working through all the painful questions and emotions tied to suicide, remember this – take care of yourself. Going through something this difficult makes you vulnerable emotionally and physically so make sure you meet the basic requirements of sleeping, eating, drinking enough water and going outside from time to time. I know those things tend to fall by the wayside during times like these but you need to focus on them because they’re going to only make you stronger to face the pain that suicide leaves in its wake.
Survivors of Suicide Resources
If your loved one has committed suicide, you may wish to check out:
- The Survivors of Suicide website, including their resources page
- Find a support group through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Healing after a Loved One’s Death by the Mayo Clinic
- These suicide and suicide attempt resources
And there are many, many more that are more local. Just Google “suicide survivors support yourarea.”
My thoughts are with you. While it’s unfair you have to go through this, you don’t have to go through this alone. Reach out.
A Note on Suicide Terminology
Please be advised that some people object to the term “commit” suicide. Suicide awareness advocates would generally prefer “died by suicide.” I do recognize this but the issue is that people who need this information are going to search for the term “commit suicide” as that is what everyone says. In order to get the information out to the people who need it, it needs to use common vernacular That being said, I do say “died by suicide” when I feel it’s appropriate. More on suicide terminology here.
Also, I know that people who die of suicide can be men or women but I need a singular pronoun to use and that is often “him.”