If someone close to you has committed suicide, the first thing to know is that you are not alone, not to blame, and can expect to pass through a number of predicable stages of grief.
It is amazing (at least to me) to know that about one person in four knows someone who has taken their own life.
What this means is that, if you are typical, then you have a network of friends and acquaintances who may be going through — or have gone through — a similar grieving process.
A common reaction to the suicide of someone close is the tendency to blame ourselves.
We re-enact our last conversations. We wonder if we were not sensitive enough to cues that might have predicted the final outcome. We recall the last argument…and so on.
The fact is suicide is typically the result of a constellation of accumulated hurts from a variety of sources. And it is also an exquisitely complex and personal decision. Trying to blame ourselves after a loved one takes her/his life is inappropriate and unproductive.
There are three broad stages of grief, although people react to a suicide in many different ways within those broad categories.
At first, there is shock, or numbness. At this point there might also be a lot of anger, and folks at this stage will commonly withdraw from others, despite all attempts to be of comfort.
Next comes a disorganized stage. At this stage, sleep and eating patterns may become distorted, and our minds will race to identify blame and/or causes. It is at this point that folks will begin to feel the need to discuss their feelings.
It is very important not to avoid denial in these first two stages. As horrifying the anger and sadness may be, they must be felt and allowed to come to resolution.
At this point, some people feel an actual sense of relief — that the death has brought an irredeemably painful life has been brought to a merciful end. This is particularly true if that life was marked with depression. This is a quite acceptable reaction.
The final broad stage is one of consolidation and integration — the point at which the pain is not so great, the sense of blame so keen, the need for re-integration into the emotional lives of others more pronounced.
If you know someone who has experienced the suicide of a loved one, then it is at this final stage when you can be of greatest help and comfort. But be aware, don’t try to accelerate the grieving process; it is something deep, personal, and with its own course.
Be natural. Treat your friend with acceptance and love. You may become frustrated that your friend seems erratic or confused at one moment, then steady and controlled at the next moment. This is entirely natural. There has been an emotional shattering, and it takes time to put the pieces back together.
Finally, research the outside services that are available. Most communities will have professional grief counseling programs as well as victim/survivors groups.
Editor’s note: Hugh Macaulay is vice president of the Arrowhead Clubhouse Society. He writes monthly on mental health and social issues on the Coast for Coast Reporter.