Navigating the grief following a death by suicide doesn’t come with a rule book. Everyone grieves differently and, at times, it can feel overwhelming. It might not always feel like it, but you can adjust to life without the person you lost. It can take a lot of time and it isn’t always easy, but there are things you can do to help you on your grief journey. Below is a list of things that may help you process and cope with what you’re experiencing. You may not find all of these ideas helpful because what helps one person might not help someone else, but remember that you can choose what supports to use or not use when navigating your grief.
How to cope with losing someone to suicide
Go at your own pace
If you have lost someone to suicide, it can be tempting to set expectations about where you should be in your grief journey at certain times, but that’s not how grief works. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and grief doesn’t follow a set timeline. There are no stages of grief. Your grief is personal to you.
Suicide bereavement can have a devastating impact, so be patient and kind with yourself as you process it. Take it one day at a time, or even one hour at a time if you need to. The symptoms of grief can be intense, particularly when the loss is recent, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do things you don’t feel ready for. Grief doesn’t happen in a set order and setbacks are part of the journey. The pain doesn’t disappear, but it can become less intense and over time you can find ways to cope and continue to live your life.
Care for yourself
When a death occurs, grief can make it harder to do practical things that are good for you like eating well, getting sleep and going for exercise. If you’ve lost your appetite, eating smaller meals more often throughout the day can help. Try and take the time you need to rest and get some sleep, and go for light exercise like walks when you can. These are some ways that you can care for yourself while grieving, but you’re the expert of your own needs. You don’t need to feel guilty if you aren’t able to do some of the things you could before when you’re adjusting to loss.
Acknowledge your feelings
Losing someone to suicide can leave you with a confusing and overwhelming collection of emotions. These emotions can come and go in waves, and often overlap, making it difficult to untangle them and figure out how you’re feeling. As you move through your grief journey, it’s important to acknowledge how you’re feeling without judging yourself for how you feel. Sometimes, people are shocked by some of the emotions they feel when they’re grieving, or feel ashamed for reacting in certain ways. For example, it’s common to feel some anger directed towards the person who you lost, the people in their life, or even towards yourself. Even though it’s not fair to blame anyone in these situations, it’s okay to feel this emotion and to express it in a safe way. People can also feel some relief following a suicide, especially if the person who died had been unwell and in distress for a long time. This can be a difficult emotion to experience, you might even feel guilty for feeling relieved, but it doesn’t mean that you aren’t still grieving the person you have lost. Our article on how you regulate your emotions can be helpful if you would like to learn more about how you can manage difficult feelings.
Talk when you’re ready
Losing someone to suicide is a lot to process on your own and many people find that talking to others about what they’re experiencing helps a lot. If you feel you want to talk about what happened and how it’s impacting you, reach out to someone you trust. This could be a friend or family member, or someone in your community. You might prefer to talk to someone who doesn’t know you personally, like a therapist, support group or a helpline. These options can be helpful because when you lose someone to suicide, some of the people around you might not have the capacity to support you in the ways you deserve because they are grieving too. You might find it easier to talk to someone anonymously.
While talking to people can be really helpful, it’s also ok to not want to talk about your loss for a time. If people around you want to talk but that’s not what you need right now, it’s ok to let them know. When someone you know dies by suicide, you might find yourself in situations where people ask you questions about how they died. It’s OK to tell people when you are ready and to say whatever you feel is right about how the person died, but you also don’t have to if you don’t want to. You can tell them that you don’t feel like talking about it at the moment.
Read about suicide and bereavement
Losing someone to suicide can leave you with a lot of unanswered questions. Some people find that learning more about suicide helps them to understand what happened and process their grief. You can read about suicide on our website. HUGG also have a lot of helpful and accurate information on suicide and suicide bereavement on their website.
Be mindful of your coping mechanisms
People will turn to many different things to help them manage the intense emotions they experience when they’re grieving. The coping strategies you reach for to deal with grief do not make you a better or worse person but some coping strategies can be more helpful and effective than others. For example, some people try to manage intense emotions caused by suicide bereavement by isolating themselves, or by using alcohol and drugs. While these reactions are understandable, these coping strategies also often come with side effects that can cause problems. Our article on how to build new coping skills contains information on how to develop new ways of managing the difficult emotions that grief can stir up.
Use family, friends and community
Not everyone will use professional support to help navigate their grief. For many people, the help and support from family and friends, and their wider community is key to coping with suicide bereavement. These people can help take the pressures off the immediate family by dealing with practical things. They can provide emotional comfort and support and sometimes they help simply by being present. Everyone is different when it comes to the kind of support they need. For example, some people like to have practical things to do because it takes their mind off what’s happening, but others may find them overwhelming and would really appreciate it if they were taken off their hands. By letting the people in your life know what kind of support you would prefer, they will be able to help you more effectively. Not everyone is comfortable with accepting help from other people, but you deserve support on your grief journey.
When someone dies by suicide it can have a big impact, not just on immediate friends and family, but also on the wider community. This could mean that people in your support system are also dealing with their own grief. This means there may be times when they don’t have the capacity to be there for you in the way they usually could. Know that this is normal and it’s okay for you to be there for each other when you can and to be understanding when you can’t.
Find ways to remember your loved one
Many people who lose someone to suicide draw meaning from the experience by finding ways to remember and honour the memory of the person they lost. Some people do this simply by talking about the person’s life and the good memories they shared with them. Talking about your loved one is an important part of grieving. Experiencing a death by suicide means that you cannot talk about the person who you lost. The manner of their death does not define their life
Some find that their religious or spiritual traditions help them to connect and care for their loved one. Others establish their own traditions like regularly meeting up with people who knew their loved one to celebrate them and reminisce together. Often, people will find their own private and personal ways to share their love for who they lost and keep their memory alive. They might do this by writing about them, creating a memory box for them, listening to their favourite music, talking to them, or simply living their life and allowing themselves to find happiness. Remember, people around you might feel awkward or nervous about mentioning the person who has died. If you find it helpful to talk or hear about some good memories, you might need to let your friends and families know that it’s ok to do so.
Consider extra support
Many people manage their grief on their own with the support of friends and family, but there is a range of support options out there that you may find helpful when finding ways of coping with your grief. Losing someone to suicide can be distressing and traumatic, and can have an impact on your mental health. You might need extra support if your emotions and reactions are becoming more intense and overwhelming over time, if they are affecting how you function day-to-day or if they are very persistent. Connecting with professional services and resources that are designed to help people cope with suicide bereavement can make all the difference. You can learn more about how to access these services by reading our article on how to find support for suicide bereavement.
If you would like to read more about coping with suicide bereavement, here are some articles and guides that you may find helpful:
The HSE’s mental health information website, YourMentalHealth.ie have helpful articles on suicide bereavement.
HUGG is an Irish suicide bereavement charity. Their website, hugg.ie, contains a range of helpful resources on suicide bereavement. They also provide peer support group meetings for people aged 18 and over.
- The road ahead: A guide to dealing with the impact of suicide
- National Suicide Bereavement Support Guide
Feeling overwhelmed and want to talk to someone?
- Get anonymous support 24/7 with our text message support service
- Connect with a trained volunteer who will listen to you, and help you to move forward feeling better
- Free-text SPUNOUT to 50808 to begin
- Find out more about our text message support service
If you are a customer of the 48 or An Post network or cannot get through using the ‘50808’ short code please text HELLO to 086 1800 280 (standard message rates may apply). Some smaller networks do not support short codes like ‘50808’.