If a friend of yours has lost someone in their life to suicide, it can be difficult to know how to respond. Grief can be painful, unpredictable and overwhelming at times, so it can be upsetting and frightening to watch someone you care about go through a grief journey. While you may want to make them feel better, you might feel awkward or be worried about saying the wrong thing.
You don’t have to have all the answers or be a mental health expert to have a conversation with your friend about their loss. Talking about suicide bereavement can be challenging. This article covers some tips that can help. You also do not have to take on the responsibility of supporting someone on your own. You can speak to someone you trust about what’s happening or contact a support service for some advice.
Talking to your friend about their grief
One of the ways you can support a friend who is grieving is by creating a space where they can talk about what they’re going through. Losing someone to suicide is a lot to process on your own, so many people find that talking to someone they trust about what they’re experiencing helps a lot. Here are some tips on having a conversation about suicide loss.
Check if your friend wants to talk about their loss
Your friend may come to you themselves to ask if they can talk to you about their loss, but if they don’t, you can bring the subject up yourself. You can start by letting them know you’re sorry about what happened and asking if they would like to talk about it. They might not be ready to discuss their loss or how they’re feeling, and that’s ok. If your friend says they don’t want to talk, let them know that you respect their decision and that you’re there for them if they change their mind in the future.
Find a space to talk
Try to plan a safe place and time to talk to your friend about how they’re doing. This should be somewhere private where you both feel comfortable and won’t be distracted or interrupted.
Let your friend direct the conversation
If your friend decides to open up to you about their grief, allow them to lead the conversation and talk about the things that are most important to them. Let your friend set the pace. Being present and really listening shows you care and that you are there for them. You may have many questions about the situation, and sometimes asking some questions can be helpful if your friend isn’t sure where to begin, but be mindful that questions can be overwhelming. Keep in mind that losing someone to suicide can be traumatic, so your friend may want to talk about some aspects of their grief, but find other aspects of what happened too upsetting to talk about.
Your friend may become upset or cry during the conversation, and that’s ok. You can comfort them and let them know they can take all the time they need. Don’t be afraid of moments of silence, sometimes a bit of silence creates space that allows the person to open up and talk with you. Your friend may be dealing with difficult emotions like guilt or anger. Let them know that these reactions are common parts of grief after suicide, suicide, that it is ok to feel what they are feeling, and that they are not to blame for what happened.
Ask how you can help
Ask your friend what you can do to support them. They may want to have more conversations about what they’re going through, or they might need some more practical support with basic things like making a meal, shopping, cleaning, making phone calls etc. It can be challenging to complete some of these routine tasks when you are grieving, so helping your friend with them can make a big difference.
Finding the right words to talk about suicide.
Suicide can be an uncomfortable subject to talk about for a lot of people. Some of the language commonly used to describe suicide comes from the past and can have a negative impact on people who have been bereaved by suicide and can come across as judgmental and shaming. Our article on the language to use when talking about suicide can help you feel more prepared for having a conversation about the topic with your friend.
Some phrases to avoid
If you’re talking to your friend about their grief following a suicide, it’s important not to put too much pressure on yourself to know all the right things to say. You won’t be able to solve their problems or make everything better for them, and you don’t need to. Sometimes, just listening is enough. Sometimes people say things to someone who is grieving to try and comfort them and make them feel better, but they can be unhelpful. Here are some examples.
‘They’re in a better place now’
While people often say this because they believe it’s reassuring or comforting, it can sometimes be upsetting to hear for someone who is grieving. It’s also important to keep in mind that different people have different beliefs about what happens when you die, and it’s important to be respectful of what they believe, even if it’s not what you believe.
‘You’ll be ok’
When you’re experiencing grief, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine ever feeling better. It is true that with time and the right support, your friend can find ways to cope with their grief and continue to live their life, but simply telling them that they will be ok can feel like you’re minimising their experience.
‘I know how you feel’
If you have experienced a loss yourself, it can be tempting to tell your friend that you know how they feel because you can relate to certain aspects of their experience. While talking to people who have experienced their own grief journeys can be helpful when you’ve lost someone, keep in mind that everyone experienced grief in a personal and unique way. Telling someone you know how they feel can be unhelpful.
What if I’m finding the conversation overwhelming?
If you are supporting someone who has been bereaved by suicide, it’s also important to look after your own mental health and wellbeing in the process. Losing someone to suicide can be traumatic, and it can be distressing to hear about certain experiences that can come with suicide bereavement. If you are talking to your friend and are finding the conversation triggering or overwhelming, it’s ok to ask for a break or to let them know you’re finding it to be too overwhelming.
If your friend wants to have a conversation about their loss but you don’t feel like you can support them in that way, that’s ok too. You can let them know that it’s good that they want to talk and help them find another person in their life who they trust to open up to. This doesn’t mean that you can’t support your friend, as there are other ways to help them through their grief other than talking. You can help find information about additional suicide bereavement support.
What if my friend is having thoughts of suicide?
When someone experiences the trauma of losing someone to suicide, it can cause them to experience their own suicidal thoughts. If you are concerned that your friend is having thoughts of suicide, it’s important that they access the help and support they need. Our article on what to do if someone tells you they are thinking of suicide can help. There are things you can do to support your friend if they are having thoughts of suicide, but you shouldn’t try to support them alone. There are a range of support services across Ireland that help people who are thinking of suicide.
Feeling overwhelmed and want to talk to someone?
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