Perhaps, they are not the stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.
– Inuit legend, Author unknown
The fact that someone died by suicide does not change our love for them, their value, the impact they had on our lives, their contributions to our families and communities and our right and need to celebrate and honour their lives and accomplishments. It is how a person lived not how they died that defines someone.
Each person’s grief process is unique and depends on factors such as individual personality, relationship to the deceased, personal histories and supports. It is important to know that your feelings are normal and valid. It is also important to know that there are people who can and will help you move through this difficult journey.
Some normal responses to suicide loss:
Shock & Numbness Suicide bereavement is one of the most intensely painful experiences you are likely to undergo. The pain can be so overwhelming initially that your reaction may be to turn off some of your emotions. At some point the numbness leaves and you will need to go through the pain that is buried.
You may not fully accept the reality of the suicide. You may move in and out of denial. This is especially common in the initial phases of grief.
Deep sadness is normal. Other common feelings may include helplessness, hopelessness, fear, failure, anxiety, depression, rejection and abandonment. Remember that the world as you knew it changed the moment your loved one died. Grief impacts everything including sleep patterns, eating habits, concentration, energy levels and motivation. This is all normal.
Anger & Blame
Anger and blame may be directed towards those you perceive to be at fault. These may include doctors, counsellors, friends, family, yourself, or even the person who died.
Stigma around suicide may make it difficult to talk about the cause of your loved one’s death, for fear of being judged. It is ok to take your time to talk about your grief in ways that feel safe for you. Let family and friends know what you need from them.
Survivors of suicide often feel guilty because they feel they missed or ignored earlier warning signs of distress. Others may have decided to distance themselves from the person in order to keep themselves healthy. Guilt is a common response to suicide and yet it is important to know that you are not to blame for another person’s actions.
You may feel a sense of relief after a suicide, especially if the relationship with the deceased has been difficult and chaotic, or you watched the person suffer a long time. This feeling of relief may also be mixed with feelings of guilt.
As a survivor you may ask “Why” questions over and over in an effort to understand the reason your loved one took his or her life. This is a normal part of the healing process, even if the questions are never fully answered.
You may fear that other family members or friends will die, either by suicide or another way. Fear of losing someone else is often deepened after a suicide loss.
Spiritual or religious beliefs
Spiritual beliefs and values may be compromised following a suicide death. You may question the meaning or purpose of life. Fear of rejection by your religious community may also be a factor.
Due to the intensity of the grief process, some survivors just want the pain to end and may begin to experience suicidal thoughts themselves. Having these thoughts is common and does not mean that you will act on them. However, it is important to seek help and discuss these thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend, family member or a professional.
Coping Strategies for Living with Suicide Grief
Each person‘s grief process is unique. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there are no set time frames. “It takes as long as it takes”. Coping with a suicide loss means taking one day at a time and claiming your right to grieve in your own way and at your own pace.
Experiencing and expressing your feelings will help you move through the grief process and eventually find some relief and healing. Grief is extremely draining: mentally and physically. Make time to grieve. Let people know when you need support. Teach others how they can be most helpful to you. Do something active and practice self care: reading, journaling, walking, and deep breathing can be very helpful and healthy activities (go to to www.de-stress.ca for more tips on Mindfullness and Stress Reduction).
Many suicide survivors have found it helpful to reach out to supportive friends and family and/or helping professionals to help them deal with their feelings. Others find that reading about suicide loss and self-care for survivors has helped. Some people join or form Suicide Bereavement Groups to obtain support and guidance from other survivors who have ‘been there’. Still others participate in local/national suicide prevention organizations, raising their voices and working together to prevent further suicides in our communities.
The Embrace Life Council is currently compiling a list of suicide survivor resources, counselling and support services in each community in Nunavut. If you are aware of any such resources/supports in your community please contact our office at email@example.com and share this information with us so that we can in turn share it with others.