5 Ways Suicide Grief is Different
A Note About This Blog
I write that I might heal my grief over losing my only child, my 20-year-old son, to suicide June 25, 2012.
The beautiful photographs of flowers, shrubs, and trees in bloom throughout the seasons are from my gardens.
Gardening, taking photos, and writing poems, blog posts, books, and songs bring serenity to my now upside-down world after losing my son to suicide. That we all might find peace.
Suicide Grief is Different Because Loss Survivors…
- Blame Themselves for what they did, what they missed, and what they did not do to prevent their loved one’s suicide.
- Feel Responsible for the suicide of the loved one they lost and thus guilty for their loved one’s suicide.
- Wonder Why over and over again, even knowing there will never be an answer why their loved one took their life.
- Move through the Stigma and Trauma attached to a loved one’s death by suicide. Religious and community acceptance or conversely, their shunning of suicide, especially when addiction, alcohol, or substance use disorders are involved, can make suicide grief more difficult.
- Question Everything. Suicide is not a choice, though it seems a preventable death. Suicide awareness and prevention can compound loss survivors’ grief.
5 Ways Suicide Grief is Different
Way 1: Blaming
Losing a loved to suicide is one is one of life’s most painful experiences. The feelings of loss, sadness, and loneliness experienced after any death of a loved one are often magnified in suicide survivors by feelings of quilt, confusion, rejection, shame, anger, and the effects of stigma and trauma.Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief, National Library of Medicine
Blaming: What Did I Miss?
I received many compassionate words, cards, embraces, and acts of service when my son died. Dylan’s friends and family flocked to our house the morning of his death. They brought pastries from a local bakery, coffee, and huge condolences.
Dylan’s friends gathered in our driveway, sequestered together the way teenagers do, talking about the shock of his death, when they had last texted Dylan, when they had last seen him. Sharing grief. Horrified. Shock. Numbness. Disbelief. Suspended disbelief. Tears and great sadness.
And a shared sense of What If? Should I have? Could I have? What did I miss? What didn’t I see or do? What could I have done to have prevented his suicide? If I had only. . . .
Suicide loss “survivors show higher levels of feelings of guilt, blame, and responsibility for the death than other mourners (‘Why didn’t I prevent it?’). . . More frequently, they blame themselves for not anticipating and preventing the actual act of suicide ….”Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief, National Library of Medicine
Blaming: Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve
Parents who lose a child to suicide have “an overestimation of one’s own responsibility, as well as guilt for not having been able to do more to prevent such an outcome” (Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief, National Library of Medicine). They blame themselves.
“These are the thoughts that go through loss survivors’ heads,” Feigelman said. “You just get into this stew, where you’re just beating yourself up and yearning for the lost loved one, and blaming yourself, and going over and over it.”
Caren Chesler, After child’s suicide, parents can be engulfed in self-blame and guilt, Washington Post, July 15, 2023
5 Ways Suicide Grief is Different
Way 2: Feeling Responsible
Losing a loved one to suicide is one of the worst blows someone can experience, psychologists say. It’s not just dealing with grief, which is hard enough, it’s the terrible guilt, especially so when it’s a child.“
Caren Chesler, After child’s suicide, parents can be engulfed in self-blame and guilt, Washington Post, July 15, 2023Caren Chesler
Wondering What If?
And then the peculiarity of grief after suicide loss: a grief speculating if they could have done something, been somewhere, told someone;
a grief blaming themselves, each individually and at the same time, as the same kids who had grown up together;
a grief questioning their role in his death;
a grief that will linger and challenge them beyond the youth of their years;
a grief that breaks apart completely their truth of the inherent order of life.Beth Brown, My Forever Son
A Grief that Speculates
And then the peculiarity of grief after suicide loss: a grief speculating if they could have done something, been somewhere, told someone; a grief blaming themselves, each individually and at the same time, as the same kids who had grown up together with Dylan; a grief questioning their role in his death; a grief that will linger and challenge them beyond the youth of their years; a grief that breaks apart completely their truth of the inherent order of life.
“As a parent, we want to think that we could have saved them, we could have protected them, it could have turned out different. And there’s no answer to that. And I think that’s part of the torture of when you have a child die by suicide is you just don’t know,” said Christina Liparini, a licensed psychologist and volunteer at Good Grief, a nonprofit group that serves families that have experienced the death of a parent or child.Caren Chesler, After child’s suicide, parents can be engulfed in self-blame and guilt, Washington Post, July 15, 2023
Suicide Grief is Different
Way 3: Why?
Losing a loved to suicide is one is one of life’s most painful experiences. The feelings of loss, sadness, and loneliness experienced after any death of a loved one are often magnified in suicide survivors by feelings of quilt, confusion, rejection, shame, anger, and the effects of stigma and trauma. [They] are at higher risk of developing major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal behaviors, as well as a prolonged form of grief called complicated grief. Added to the burden is the substantial stigma, which can keep survivors away from much needed support and healing resources.
Bob Baugher and Jack Jordan, After Suicide Loss: Coping
with Your Grief.
Why? (What made him do this? Did he leave a note?)
Still teenagers. Knowing their friends don’t die. They are at an age of invincibility. This can’t be happening to them. “Why?” they question. “What made him do this?” “Did he leave a note?” “Why?”
Parents who have lost a child to suicide struggle with ongoing feelings of guilt, responsibility, and blaming themselves. The stigma surrounding a child’s death by suicide can cause feelings of shame to linger.
Parents who have lost a child to suicide can be especially afflicted with feelings of guilt and responsibility. Parents who have lost a child to suicide report more guilt, shame, and shock than spouses and children. They often think “If only I had not lost my temper” or “If only I had been around more.” The death of child is arguably the most difficult type of loss a person can experience, particularly when the death is by suicide. Parents feel responsible for their children, especially when the deceased child is young. Indeed, age of the suicide deceased has been found to be one of the most important factors predicting intensity of grief.
Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief, National Library of Medicine
Way 4: Stigma and Trauma
Because of the stigma associated with suicide, survivors may feel they are unable to secure enough support from friends or family, but may benefit from attending support groups with other survivors who uniquely share their experiences and offer a haven for survivors to feel understood.Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief, National Library of Medicine
Is Suicide Really a Choice?
Losing a child to suicide compounds grief in unimaginable ways. Because a child dies by taking their own life, suicide seems a needless and entirely preventable death. It is not. Read More: Is Suicide Really a Choice?
Suicide [loss] survivors often face unique challenges that differ from those who have been bereaved by other types of death. In addition to the inevitable grief, sadness, and disbelief typical of all grief, overwhelming guilt, confusion, rejection, shame, and anger are also often prominent.These painful experiences may be further complicated by the effects of stigma and trauma.Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief, National Library of Medicine
Suicide Grief is Different
Way 5: Questioning
After Suicide: Feelings of shock, denial, guilt, anger, and depression are a normal part of grief. These feelings can be especially heightened when a child has died by suicide. The suicide of a child can raise painful questions, doubts and fears. You may question why your love was not enough to save your child and may fear that others will judge you to be an unfit parent. Both questions may raise strong feelings of failure.The Compassionate Friends, “Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Suicide is Not a Choice
Some still perceive suicide to be a choice. It is not. Suicide Epidemiologists who research, study, and track data, know that suicide is not a choice. The following quote is from “Don’t Say It’s Selfish: Suicide Is Not a Choice” at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Viewing suicide as a choice promotes the misunderstanding that people who engage in suicidal behavior are selfish. Selfishness has been defined by Merriam-Webster as “seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.” Suicide does not generate pleasure, advantage or well-being. People who take their own lives commonly feel like a burden to others or experience intense emotional pain that overwhelms their capacity to continue with life. Making others feel guilty is typically the furthest thing from their mind.John Ackerman, Don’t Say It’s Selfish: Suicide is Not a Choice, Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Words Matter: Suicide is Not a Choice
“A parent’s worst nightmare,” “a selfish death,” “a sin in the eyes of the church,” “we don’t talk about suicide,” “this grief group does not welcome those bereaved by suicide,”
“well at least you had him for 19 years,” “God will use your tragedy to make you stronger for others,” “It isn’t right,” “everything happens for a reason,”
“I can’t be friends with you anymore,” “what happened to make him that way?” (implying, of course, that I somehow could have and should have prevented my son’s death, and worst of all, saying absolutely nothing.
Words that hurt beyond belief. Words that would not have been spoken had his death been by another means.
Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy.-Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide
Wanting the Pain to End
Suicide seems like a choice. But suicide is not a choice, and those who die by suicide don’t want to die, they just want the pain to end. Suicide is a tragedy. Read: The Pain of Suicide: It’s Not About Wanting to Die; It’s About Wanting the Pain to End