When someone takes their own life it can be hard to talk about. We may worry about other people’s reactions. The stigma and misunderstanding about suicide makes it more difficult for us.
We found that when we were able to speak about it, we felt better and not so alone. We told people who could really listen without judging us or what had happened. They could put their own needs aside for us.
If we had others who wanted to give us their advice, judgements or opinions at this difficult time we avoided them. We did not have the energy for them. Some of our friends drifted away, some came closer.
We found it helped us to talk to people who could listen and accept us as we were. Some of us had trouble speaking about our loss because we felt responsible or guilty. We wished we could have done more or somehow stopped this death from happening. We felt helpless and that we had let the person we loved down.
Even though it’s hard for some of us to talk about, others will appreciate the truth. Being honest helps our own grieving process.
Some people will not use the word ‘suicide’. For some, suicide is still seen as shameful. Attitudes to suicide are tied to our cultural and religious beliefs. For some of us, this makes it even more difficult to speak about.
Anniversaries and other special times
Birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions bring back our loss and are often a difficult time for us.
The first anniversary of the death is often tough. Some of our earlier signs of grief may return and if we do not know this is normal, we can feel overwhelmed by it.
We may want to talk about our loss at these times. Having a way to honour the person who has died helps us too.
Our family and our community’s rituals help us through this time. We will want to remember and honour the person we have lost.
Gathering with others, attending a ceremony or service, sharing a special meal, visiting the place of burial, remembering our loved one in whatever way we wish supports us.
Other people’s stories
Following our loss, many of us were approached by people who had also lost someone to suicide. We were not prepared for this and sometimes couldn’t give the support they wanted.
At other times we found comfort in sharing our stories and knowing we were not alone. Many people are touched by suicide but most will not speak about it unless they think others will understand.
We found it useful to have some information of where people could get help. We could provide this when we didn’t have the energy to hear their stories. The Getting Help section has these contacts.
Talking to others
Sharing our grief with family and friends helps us all. This time can bring us closer together. For some of us though, it can be stressful when others are also distressed.
Acknowledging our relationship with the person who has died and talking about it with others helps many of us. In some cultures this is not the case. For many Aboriginal people the name of the person who has died is not mentioned following their death.
This is a special time when stories and memories are shared. Lots of families find laughter and humour important. For some of us it can feel strange to share laughter when there is so much sadness and distress. Like tears, humour is another way to express our grief. For some of us it is an important relief.
Acknowledging others who have been close to the person who has died also helps. It’s best if someone they trust can break the news and in person. If we had to phone people, we warned them that we had some bad news and made sure they were not left alone.
Managers and workmates of the person who has died and with whom we work will want to know what’s happened. Some of us didn’t tell them ourselves but asked a trusted person and to let others know.
Other people will sometimes be distressed by the news. They may have had someone close to them take their own life. Suicide touches everyone. Telling others about what’s happened gives us a chance to talk about it. However, it can touch others’ experiences and pain.
Communicating with others via social media is very different to normal communication and has benefits and risks.
In the wake of the loss of a loved one, it can be a great stress to keep things together and maintain our relationships. Social media such as Facebook can provide a way for us to continue to communicate with others without the added pressure of responding immediately or face to face. Young people especially use social media to keep in touch and find out what is happening.
It provides a sense of connection that can be a very important support.
It can also provide a space for us to talk openly to people with shared experiences. All of our thoughts and feelings are valid, yet sometimes we feel we cannot share them with the people we know from our day-to-day lives. Social media opens up communities to us where we can talk openly and anonymously. There are many online groups available to those of us who are grieving.
However, social media can also create concern when our young people are vulnerable. Rumours, inappropriate messages or antisocial behaviour online may add to their anxiety and grief. We asked them about what was happening on social media and encouraged them to spend time with friends, not only online.
The school principal or psychologist can advise on any concerns we may have about social media and its risks following a suicide.
Online memorial pages
It is very common for young people to set up memorial pages for their loved ones. It is possible that friends have already created a memorial page on websites such as Facebook or Tumblr. We may find this comforting and want to contribute, in the short term or down the track.
The creators of these memorials are dealing with their grief as well. If there’s something on the page we don’t like, we need to be aware of this and respond with care. Again, we can ask for help to do this if we are not able do it ourselves. We can also ask for what we would appreciate seeing on these pages.