What we can do to help ourselves

After suicide we are in shock, often lost and confused. Taking a day at a time helped us through the dark times.

You will know what is best for you and what you need. And that will change.
Some of us found sitting with a friend, even in silence, helped. Some of us walked or ran or swam. Movement helped de-stress and sleep better.

Some of us found water soothed us, walking on the beach, along the river or having a bath. Watching the sun set, sitting under a tree, watching birds in the garden and other ways of being close to nature helped us too.

Some of us poured ourselves into practical things, cooking or cleaning or sorting the back shed.

And some of us escaped to a special place we love, a place where we could just be with our grief and feel safe.

Our communities help us at this time too: being with others, sharing a cup of tea or stories and yarns, crying (and laughing) together, playing music, going for walks, playing cards together, remembering the person we have lost and the gift of their life.

It helped some of us to talk and to go over what has happened with someone who listened to us. Some of us needed to do this often, retelling our story again and again.

Some of us needed time to be alone.

Some of us found comfort in our spiritual traditions: returning to country or to where our family and community are, or attending our place of worship such as our mosque, church, temple or synagogue. We grappled with what had happened and for some of us our faith strengthened and consoled us through this time.

For others, our spiritual traditions seemed to offer no comfort but only raised doubts and questions for us. We struggled with big questions: Why had this happened? What is life about?

In time, we come to an acceptance of our loss and find a way through our grief. There are no rules. We each find our own way, one step at a time, one day at a time, one month at a time.

Some of us found writing and music helped: a letter, a poem, special songs. Others of us used drawing and our art to express our grief. Some made a memory book or a journal to remember the person we’ve lost. These can become special items that we look back at as reminders of this difficult time. Later, they remind us that we don’t feel like this forever.

Special items belonging to the person we have lost can have more meaning now and remind us of them. They became our keepsakes. They help some of us reframe our loss.

Grief passes. Usually the intensity of our grief eases gradually, but it can come and go in intensity for a long time and may return at special times like birthdays or anniversaries. Expecting this means we are not so distressed by it.

Our needs change at different times in our grieving. Sometimes we felt OK and as though our lives were getting back to normal. At other times we felt that nothing helps our pain and that it overwhelmed us. In these times we learnt to take extra care of ourselves. We reminded ourselves that it will pass. Like ocean waves, our grief will come and go. Ours softened over time when we were able to let it come and go.

We found ways to honour the person we’ve lost. When someone dies suddenly we don’t have the chance to say goodbye. Talking about the person and sharing stories and memories is an important way to honour them.

We found ways to remember and honour helped us too: planting a tree, naming a place in their honour, carrying a sign or symbol on us every day, having special photos to keep the person close or making a CD of their favourite music to play.

We always remember what’s happened but we’ve learnt to live with our loss. Although the intensity of our grief is strongest in the weeks and months after the death, it takes most of us between two and five years (or even longer) to learn to live fully with our loss. Looking after ourselves through this time helps us accept our loss and engage with life again.

We learnt to accept help. Our friends and wider family will be happy to help if we let them. Practical things: picking children up from school, cooking a meal, cleaning the bathroom, taking us for a walk or a coffee, coming with us to a support group, if that’s what we want.

It’s also OK for us to ask for the kind of help we’d like.

Some of joined a bereavement support group to be with others who understood. We felt less alone and it helped to know others had found a way though the grief. It helped to know our reactions were simply grief, and that others had experienced this too.

Some of us found support from professionals, elders or spiritual leaders who understand grief. Some of us did not want to burden those we loved who were also grieving. We felt free to speak to someone outside our family and friends who could be with us in a supportive way. We found support in sharing our story, praying, meditating or sitting in silence.

Our relationships. Loss from suicidecan strain our relationships. When we are all grieving it can change how we relate to each other. This can add to our pain.

Our relationships may look different through the eyes of grief. Allowing each other to do this in our different ways is not always easy. Family members may worry about each other. Arguments and differences may arise.

Some of our relationships grew stronger, while some were severely strained. Finding out about grief helped us to avoid conflict. For example, men and women grieve in different ways; young people may turn to their friends more than families at this time and use social media to connect to others. Family relationships can change following a loss from suicide.

Our own health. Even though we often didn’t feel like it, eating healthy food, doing gentle exercise and avoiding drugs and alcohol helped us through our grief and allowed it to take its course.

We avoided making big decisions until we felt ready. Giving ourselves space to grieve and not expecting ourselves to cope with our usual demands helped us too.

Take time out. When we are grieving we can feel guilty for laughing or enjoying ourselves. This is normal. Taking time to do things we like, even if we don’t feel like it, will help.

Only do what must be done. By giving ourselves some space we allow our grief to be expressed. Expecting ourselves to do all our usual activities like work is hard on our selves. Deciding what we needed to do and letting go of less important things helped us through this time.

It also makes space for our grief and allows it to take its course. In time, it eases and we can begin to return to our usual activities again.