Helping a loved one cope with a loss from suicide can be difficult. You might experience a sense of helplessness, worry the subject might trigger distress, or unintentionally say the wrong things. Your desire to provide support is genuine, but you might be unsure about the right actions to take or words to offer.
The anguish and confusion of grief can be overwhelming. Common emotional responses include denial, guilt and anger. It’s not uncommon for individuals to find themselves in a state of bargaining, ruminating on “what if” scenarios or lamenting missed opportunities with thoughts like, “If only I had…” Guilt might manifest as sentiments such as “I should have known.”
Your loved one’s loss may cause them to distance themselves and believe their grief burdens others. Despite an inclination to respect their space, don’t wait for them to ask for help.
How to Offer your Support
- Listen without judgment. Create a safe space for your loved one to openly express their emotions, thoughts and memories. Resist the urge to offer advice or solutions, and instead encourage them to share at their own pace.
- Validate their emotions. Grief is complex. Tell your loved one their emotions are valid and acceptable.
- Assist with daily tasks. Even the smallest tasks can feel burdensome when coping with grief. You can offer support by running an errand, helping with funeral preparations or delivering a hot meal.
- Offer in-person time. With many working remotely, your loved one might find it easy to isolate themselves. Engaging in quality time together or simply offering your presence can serve as an escape from the weight of sorrow.
Comments to Avoid When Offering Support
- It’s time to move on. Grief is not a straight path, and there’s no fixed timeline. Such a remark can put unwarranted pressure on their mourning process.
- They are in a better place now. This statement can inadvertently dismiss the distress your loved one is feeling and their religious views may or may not align with yours.
- I know how you feel. Grief is a personal journey, and no two experiences are identical. Even if you’ve encountered loss yourself, don’t assume you understand your loved one’s experience or downplay their grief.
Intense feelings of grief can cause depression or anxiety or exacerbate existing mental health conditions. If the intensity of these emotions continues over time, seeking assistance from mental health professionals can be beneficial. Recognizing warning signs of depressive and suicidal thoughts can enable timely interventions and treatment for your loved one.
Supporting a loved one who has lost someone to suicide is not about fixing their pain but about standing beside them as they navigate the storm, find their own path toward acceptance and, eventually, a renewed sense of hope.