How to cope when someone you know has taken their life
When there is a suicide in the family, caregivers often disintegrate, unable to deal with the intense grief and the difficult, painful, and often unanswerable questions and thoughts: ‘Why did this happen to me?’ or ‘Why was I not able to recognize signs of distress?’ or ‘Why did he or she not call me before attempting suicide?’ or ‘I am not good mother/father’.
Every suicide is estimated to affect at least six other people. This group may include family members, co-workers, neighbors, classmates and close friends.
Emotions often overpower a bereaved family’s healing process. These emotions may occur singly or in clusters. They may come fleetingly, or stay for lengthy periods of time. They all need to be dealt with for the healing to begin.
Shock: Most survivors of suicide feel shock as an immediate reaction, along with physical and emotional numbness.
Anger: Loved ones and family members often express anger (or suppress it) at the waste of human life. Anger is another grief response, and may be directed toward the person who died by suicide, to themselves, another family member, or a professional.
Guilt: Following death by suicide, surviving family members start exploring of what clues they missed, how they may have been able to prevent the suicide. This self-blame includes things they said (or didn’t say), their failure to express love or concern, things they planned to do (but never got around to) – anything and everything in a never-ending kaleidoscope.
Fear: That if one family member committed suicide, perhaps another will make an attempt.
Depression: This manifests itself in sleeplessness or disturbed sleep, changes in appetite, fatigue, and loss of joy in life.
Most of these intense feelings will diminish over time, although there may be some residual feelings that may never truly go away. The grieving process varies from person to person. In addition, some questions may forever remain unanswered.
Acknowledge that all your intense emotions are perfectly normal reactions to grief.
Give yourself time to find the answers until you are satisfied. If you can only obtain partial answers, and that is all that will be forthcoming, be satisfied with that so you can move on.
Stay connected with other family members. Contact with others is particularly important in the first six months following a loved one’s suicide. Talk openly with other family members about your feelings about the suicide and ask them for help.
Give children special attention. Children, especially, may have a more difficult time with the intense emotions they are experiencing. It is important to remind them that these are normal grief reactions. They need, above all, to know that you still love them and will be there for them always and spend time with them.
As a survivor of suicide you may find holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other special days stressful. You can manage this stress by keeping yourself engaged during these times, or spending your time with friends and family.
You need time to heal. Don’t expect this to happen in a prescribed period of time. The healing process is different for everyone.
Be patient with yourself and with others. Not everyone understands what you are going through. Similarly, other family members and loved ones need to process grief at their own pace.
Seeking professional help is always recommended.
Dr Manoj Sharma is associate professor at the department of clinical psychology at NIMHANS
For more information call the NIMHANS Centre for Well Being (NCWB) at +919480829670/ (080) 2668594 between 9 am and 4:30 pm