Close Up Photograph of Autumn Joy Sedem during its summer bloom. Clusters of densely packed, delicate blossoms are pale pink.
Fall Sedem in Summer Bloom

5 Ways Suicide Grief Is Different

Way 1: Blaming

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.

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?’). … Occasionally,
survivors feel that they directly caused the death through
mistreatment or abandonment of the deceased. More
frequently, they blame themselves for not anticipating and
preventing the actual act of suicide …”

Suicide Bereavement and Complicated Grief, National Library of Medicine

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.

Way 2: Feeling Responsible

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.

Photograph of Fall Sedem in Vibrant Pink Bloom
Fall Sedem in Vibrant Pink Bloom

Way 3: “Why?”

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?”

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.

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

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
Photograph of Small Brown and Green Frog Sunning Itself on Pink Quartz Rock at Water Pond's Edge
Small Brown and Green Frog on Rock by Water Pond’s Edge

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”

Beth Brown, My Forever Son, “Suicide is Not a Choice: Surviving Infinite Grief After 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.

Photo of A cluster of Red, Yellow, Brown, and green leaves in fall with a quote by Kay Redfield Jamison: "Suicide is not a blot on anyone's name; it is a tragedy."

Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy.

-Kay Redfield Jamison

Words that hurt beyond belief. Words that would not have been spoken had his death been by another means.

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

Vibrant Pink Heart-shaped display of red roses against a stone wall
Heart-shaped Red Roses Against Stone Wall

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