Understanding GriefThe shock and grief that consumes you after you lose someone to suicide is overwhelming. It can feel like you have fallen into a deep hole and will never be able to get out. These are natural feelings which will likely change as you move through the grieving process. No two people experience loss in the same way. Some may experience physical symptoms such as headaches or changes in appetite and/or sleeping patterns. A person in grief may also experience some or all of the following feelings:
- SHOCK: “I feel numb.” Feelings of being dazed or detached are a common response to trauma. Shock can protect the mind from becoming completely overwhelmed, allowing the person to function.
- DENIAL: “I feel fine.” Sometimes people can consciously or unconsciously refuse to accept the facts and information about another’s death. This process can be even more challenging when there is little information or explanation about a loved one’s suicide. Eventually, as you gather information and accept that you may not be able to know everything, you can begin to process the reality of this tragic event and all the emotions that come with it. In time, however, our minds become more able to analyze the tragic event, and this allows the denial to give way to less troubling emotions.
- GUILT: “I think it was my fault.” Feelings of guilt following a suicide are very common. Guilt comes from the mistaken belief that we should have, or could have, prevented the death from happening. Guilt can also arise if there are un-reconciled issues with the deceased or regret about things said or not said. In truth, no person can predict the future, nor can they know all the reasons for another person’s actions. It is human nature to blame oneself when experiencing a loss, rather than accepting the truth that some things were out of our control.
- SADNESS: “Why bother with anything?” Once the initial reactions to the death by suicide have lessened in intensity, feelings of sadness and depression can move to the forefront. These feelings can be present for some time and can, at times, be triggered by memories and reminders of the loved one who was lost. Feelings of hopelessness, frustration, bitterness, and self-pity are all common when dealing with a loss of a loved one. Typically, you gradually learn to accept the loss and embrace both your happy and sad memories.
- ANGER: “How could they do this to me?” Feelings of anger towards the person you have lost can arise. Many who mourn feel a sense of abandonment. Others feel anger towards a real or perceived culprit. These feelings can be complex and distressing when they are directed at the person who died. It is important to know that it is possible to both be angry with someone, and to still hold them dear in your heart. Sometimes anger is needed before you can accept the reality of the loss.
- ACCEPTANCE: “I can miss them and still continue living.” The ultimate goal of healing is to accept the tragic event as something that could not have been prevented and cannot be changed. Acceptance is not the same as forgetting. Instead, acceptance is learning to live again and to be able to reopen your heart, while still remembering the person who has passed away.