September is Suicide Prevention Month. On the iHope blog, we’ll be tackling three important issues related to suicide. We’ll start from the reverse, looking today at the question of how we deal with the aftermath of suicide.
What if I have lost a loved one to suicide?
If this is true for you, know that you are certainly not alone. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. It claims the lives of the young and old, men and women. It is a reality for so many families.
Reach out for support. This is not a time to hunker down and avoid people, nor is it a time to plow ahead with work or volunteer roles or other obligations. This is a time to grieve and heal.
Talk about it on your timeline, not someone else’s timeline. It is okay to take time here. Yes, other people may feel awkward and they need to do their own grieving. But you must move at your own pace. Don’t let others rush you. But a word of advice: don’t avoid saying your loved one’s name.
Get your feelings out somehow. You are likely to feel a wide range of emotions, from sadness to anger to denial. You may even feel relief, if your loved one struggled for a long time. Some helpful ways to release your emotions include talking to someone, writing, art, listening to music, praying, and even exercising to release energy. You may need to cry or to yell at God. That’s okay. Don’t push you feelings down and ignore them.
What if someone I know has lost a loved one to suicide?
As Christians, we also know that we are called to carry one another’s burdens and to mourn with those who grieve. How do we care for and help someone who has lost a loved one to suicide?
Spend time with them. Much of this time may be silent or about completely different topics of conversation. That’s okay. You don’t want to rush the conversation or avoid talking about their loved one. Be present and willing to listen at their pace.
Watch what you say. It is important to avoid cliches and simplistic explanations for the death. It is also important to avoid making harsh or negative statements about the deceased person. You may have beliefs about what happens after a suicide, but this is not the time to berate or criticize someone who is grieving.
Notice anniversaries and holidays. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays will be difficult for years to come. The anniversary of the death and even moments such as the diagnosis of a mental illness will bring up pain each year. Even “happy” moments like Christmas or a sibling’s wedding day will be marred by the loss. Follow up with them at this time, and don’t avoid conversation about their loved one.
May we stay grounded in the words of God Himself: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).