Someone Close To You Ends Their Life by Suicide

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The death of a loved one is clearly one of the most painful experiences that we might have to endure.

Of all causes of death, suicide is probably the one that brings about the most heartbreak and the one that is the most difficult to accept. When there is a suicide, family, friends and colleagues fall prey to all sorts of reactions and emotions.

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They may feel sad for having lost a loved one, frustrated for not having been able to help or prevent the incident, and angry towards the person who ended their life by suicide leaving them with all the upheaval following the death. It often seems like we feel completely powerless towards something that we can’t understand.

Why does someone end their life by suicide?

Most people who end their life by suicide are suffering a great deal and see death as a means to stop their pain. It is not necessarily death they are seeking, but rather an end to their suffering. Difficulties arise that the person does not feel capable of overcoming and, after repeated failure at attempting to change their situation, the person concludes that they are hopeless to find a solution.

This despair leads to a life crisis that seems so intense that the only seemingly feasible way to avoid it is to end life (i.e. end their life by suicide).

Is suicide an act of courage or of madness?

Suicide is not a courageous act or an act of madness. Rather it is the consequence of despair, of the perceived inability to resolve the matter any other way. Suicide is the outcome of a more or less lengthy process, but it is still a decision that is made by the individual.

Do you feel that it is somehow your fault?

It is normal for close friends and relations of the person who ended their life by suicide to feel partly responsible and guilty about the person’s death. Now that you are confronted with the inevitable, you feel like there might have been signs, or that you could have done or said something else, something different.

This reaction is absolutely natural. However, you should know that any suicidal hints that the person who ended their life by suicide gave were probably disguised, indirect, or even non-existent. Furthermore, even if you were aware of his or her despair, your help might not have been accepted. Remember that suicide is a decision that a person makes. Other solutions might have been available, but suicide was the only way that seemed conceivable at the time.

What should you expect?

As with any other loss, it is normal that you learn to live with this death by going through the different stages of the mourning process. While it is presented here in a static and linear fashion, keep in mind that we normally progress by taking forward and backward steps. Also, it is only natural that this will take a certain amount of time, which varies from one person to the next.

At first, it is normal to feel numb and disbelieving. You are in a state of shock. You don’t understand what is going on and may not want to admit what has happened. You may even feel divided: you understand what has happened in your mind, but you can’t accept what has happened on an emotional level.

Afterwards, and often simultaneously with the first stage, it is common to feel anger towards the person who has ended their life by suicide and left you dealing with this painful experience. It is also possible that you feel angry with yourself for actions that you did or did not do for the deceased, angry for not knowing how to help, or even angry for experiencing these feelings.

Sadness may soon follow as you enter another stage of loss and mourning. This is because you are becoming increasingly aware of the loss. Some people will experience loss of appetite, sleep disturbances and other physical reactions.

Others will experience guilt feelings and remorse. In fact, you may still be tempted to make sense out of something that doesn’t make sense.

Reorganization is the last stage. In consciously accepting your feelings and every disruption that this death brought about in your life, you will begin to feel more at ease with this loss and learn to live with the situation rather than in spite of it.

What can you do?

Different strategies can help you adapt to this experience.

  1. While feeling guilty is a normal reaction, try as much as possible not to blame yourself for the person’s decision to end their life by suicide.
  2. Do not blame others.
  3. Do not try to speed up your mourning process or those of other people around you. It is normal to need some time to accept the loss.
  4. Do not hesitate to talk about your feelings and reactions to people who are close to you. Ask them for help. If you talk about your feelings, chances are you will recover faster from the loss. While isolation and withdrawal are natural reactions to confusion and despair, they should be avoided most of the time.
  5. As much as possible, be attentive to other persons who are experiencing the same loss. That way, you will get mutual support and understanding.