Seven Ways to Help a Loved One Bereaved by Suicide
“That ton of bricks that is thrust upon your shoulders by a loved one’s suicide never goes away. But you do get stronger shoulders.” – Frank Kaufman
Increasingly, suicide is being viewed not only as a mental health problem but also a public health one. A 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control indicates that 47,173 suicides occurred in the United States in 2017, more than twice the number of homicides. Suicide is currently the 10th-leading cause of death across all age groups. Sadly, among people ages 10 to 34, suicide is the second-leading cause of death. According to the study, suicide rates rose in all but one state between 1999 and 2017, with increases seen across age, gender, race and ethnicity. The problems most frequently associated with suicide are strained relationships; life stressors, often involving work or finances; substance use problems; physical health conditions; and recent or impending crises. Mental health professionals say that the most important takeaway from this information is that suicide is not only an issue for the mentally ill, but for anyone struggling with serious lifestyle problems.
Given its prevalence, more and more people are impacted by suicide. Whether it’s a friend, family member, neighbor or colleague, chances are you know someone who’s suffered a suicidal loss. Many people feel nervous when first spending time with a suicide bereaved individual. It may take some time to manage your feelings and learn how to respond. It’s OK to feel awkward, but it shouldn’t prevent you showing support and offering assistance to your grieving friend. Here are seven ways you can offer support after a suicide:
1. Show up. Watch TV or a movie. Take a walk in the park together. Have dinner out or order a pizza. It really doesn’t matter what you do with your bereaved friend, but showing up and spending time with him or her is one of the most supportive and healing actions you can take. Your physical presence is likely to be a great comfort, especially if they aren’t yet ready to share their thoughts and feelings.
2. Avoid clichés. Words can be extremely painful for a suicide survivor. Comments like, “Time will heal all wounds”, “Think of what you still have to be thankful for”, and “He’s in a better place” aren’t constructive. Although they may be well-intentioned, trite remarks like these diminish they loss and make your friend’s journey through grief more difficult.
3. Be specific in your offers to help. A person who’s dealing with suicide bereavement is most likely in new territory, so they may not even be aware of what help they could use. If you ask, “What can I do to help?”, your friend will probably have no idea how to respond. Instead, be specific and practical with your suggestions. Offer to go shopping, pick up the kids from school, walk the dog, or do the laundry.
4. Be patient. This experience has changed your friend’s life forever. You may be met with powerful feelings of anger, guilt, despair, or resentment. When the initial shock wears off and the full reality sinks in, it may become even more challenging for them. Continue to check in, and let them know you’re available to listen anytime.
5. Put self-care front and center. It’s critical that anyone experiencing a suicide loss takes care of him or herself during this very overwhelming and emotionally exhausting time. Encourage your friend to eat nutritious food and try and get regular sleep.
6. Connect them to helpful resources. Many people affected by suicide find comfort in connecting with other loss survivors. Plenty of bereavement support groups and local resources exist, so do the legwork and identify some that might help your loved one. You might offer to accompany them to an event so they feel more at ease.
7. Recognize that grief is long lasting. Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions can be particularly difficult for suicide survivors. It’s easy to get busy and forget to check in regularly after the initial period of loss, so create a calendar reminder for yourself for those trigger days.
In any coping with any loss, maintaining a strong social support network is important. The grief associated with suicide loss is especially challenging, and having a network of caring friends and family can make it much easier. If you need more information about how you can support a friend who’s bereaved by suicide, we’re here to help. Please reach out to us anytime.
About Batchelor Brothers Funeral Services: As a leading African American-owned and operated funeral and cremation organization serving three states, Batchelor Brothers Funeral Services has provided a ministry of care to thousands of grieving families. We promise to provide our highest level of distinguished service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved one. In all aspects of the funeral process, we strive to be the absolute best and are honored to help preserve our clients’ legacies for future generations. For more information, please call us at 215-549-4700 or visit our website.