Helping You and Your Family Survive a Suicide
Surviving the suicide of a loved one is different than a “natural death” and can be especially traumatic. It is common for survivors to feel that they didn’t do enough to save their loved one, creating feelings of what is called “survivor guilt.” Suicide is a personal choice and no one’s fault. As you wrestle with your feelings, do your best to be kind to yourself. There is no "right" way to grieve the loss of someone who died by suicide. Your feelings are yours and yours alone and everyone grieves differently. Here are some tips to help you survive the loss of someone who died by suicide.
Some ways to cope with grief from suicide
- Ask for help. Don't be afraid to ask the people closest to you for what you need, even if what you need is space.
- Don’t expect to just “get over it.” When a loved one dies by suicide, you may experience a lot of emotions all at once — shock, guilt, confusion or even anger. These are all normal thoughts and emotions. Be patient with yourself as you cope and grieve. The grieving process takes time. Loss is not something you “get over.”
- Talk about your grief. Work to recognize the things you can handle on your own and those you can't. You may want to join a suicide loss support group, contact your installation's chaplain, military and family life counselor or Military OneSource to connect with a non-medical counselor. You may find yourself searching for the right professional to talk to, and that’s OK.
- Get the support you need. You don’t have to grieve alone. If you find that friends and family in your support circle have their own issues to attend to, mental health professionals, suicide loss support groups, faith communities and the military community can lend you a helping hand. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
- Find resources available to you. The Days Ahead provides resources and advice for coping with the loss of loved ones. The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors provides adult survivor seminars and retreats, and you can reach out for bereavement counseling through the VA. The American Association of Suicidology is an education and resource association devoted to increasing understanding of suicide. The mission of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) is to prevent suicide through public awareness and education, reduce stigma and serve as a resource to those touched by suicide.
- Prepare yourself for well-meaning but thoughtless comments. It is not uncommon for well-intended people to say insensitive things like, “At least they are not in pain anymore.”
- Take care of yourself. Do your best to give your body what it needs. Sleep, eat healthy food and exercise as you can.
Seek immediate help if experiencing complicated grief. You will never be completely over the death of your loved one; however, your grief should become less intense as time passes. If you do not feel better over time or your grief is getting worse and your pain is so severe it keeps you from living your life, you may be suffering from "complicated grief." There is a difference between grief and depression. If you are experiencing the following symptoms, talk to a professional grief therapist or counselor right away:
- Intense guilt — blaming yourself for your loved one's death
- Thoughts of suicide or your mind is preoccupied with dying — feel like life isn't worth living o Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness — wish you had died with your loved one
- Inability to function — unable to perform your normal activities at work, home and/or school.
Parenting after a suicide
If you’re a parent dealing with the suicide of a loved one, try to remember that children and teens grieve differently from adults. You can help them by telling the basic truth, answering their questions, and sticking to your daily routines. Remember to assure them that they are not responsible for the suicide, and find counseling and other resources for them as needed.
More ways to help children:
- Remain as calm as you can throughout the first days. In the first few days after you lose your loved one to suicide, you may feel like you’re losing control. You may have a great deal to do as you cope with your loss, and your kids may need you now more than ever. Try to stay as calm as you can. And if you can’t handle everything you’re facing, get some help right away.
- Make sure your kids know that they are not responsible. Because kids are naturally self-centered, they may feel that the suicide is their fault. Reassure them that what happened is not their fault.
- Bereavement camps. You may want to consider a bereavement camp for yourself and your children. These camps typically include grief sessions mixed with physical activities and social events to help relieve some of the powerful emotions they may be feeling. Programs for children and teens include:
- Other resources like TAPS offer peer-to-peer mentoring with other suicide survivors. And for bereavement counseling, call the Department of Veterans Affairs at 202-461-6530.
Military OneSource offers non-medical counseling for parenting, stress management, and grief and loss issues. To get help, call 800-342-9647. For more information, you can also reach out to the military and family support center on your installation for Military and Family Life Counseling Program support. OCONUS/International? Click here for calling options.
If you or someone you know is suicidal or in a state of crisis, call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK (8255), then press 1.
Note: Military OneSource does not provide medical counseling services for issues such as depression, substance use disorders, suicide prevention or post-traumatic stress disorder. This article is intended for informational purposes only. Military OneSource can provide referrals to your local military treatment facility, TRICARE or another appropriate resource.