How do you make sense of suicide? Quite simply, you don't.
Suicide is one of the most painful and challenging losses anyone has to grieve. Grief in our society is already hard enough to process because it is simply not talked about enough and worse, it’s not acknowledged by some people at all.
Culturally we don’t support grief with services like time off for bereavement. And acquaintances, even friends or relatives, may make well-meaning, but insensitive comments about how quickly one ought to be “over the loss.” For someone who just experienced a loss, hearing comments like “It’s been 4 weeks/6 months, don’t you think it’s time to move on?” is very painful.
Why are usually kind and caring people so insensitive when it comes to bereavement?
Often it’s because people are uncomfortable talking about death.
It’s a struggle to acknowledge death and dying because of the fear it brings up about it happening to them or to their loved ones.
In general, the whole conversation around growing older, illness, accidents or terminal diagnoses is avoided by most people Our society just hasn’t been educated on how to talk about death and dying. It’s almost a secret or huge shock when someone passes away, even when they have lived a long life.
It’s a shame since loss and dying are things that we all eventually have to face. We will all lose a loved one. We are all going to feel the despair of grief. We will all face our own mortality eventually. Even with the inevitability of it happening to us and people we love, it’s still a difficult topic for most people.
I think that one of the biggest reasons people avoid discussing grief is because of how deeply it leaves people in despair. The realization that you will never see your loved one again is just too hard to grasp.
So what happens to you when you are grieving?
Grief shows up in your life in many ways. It affects you physically, emotionally, mentally, socially and spiritually.
Physically you may feel ill, have headaches, stomach issues or tightness in your chest.
Emotionally your feelings can fluctuate from one moment to the next. One moment it’s sadness, then despair, loneliness or fear of the future. And the more surprising feelings of anger and irritability may also bubble up.
Mentally you may find yourself unable to focus or concentrate, unable to complete simple tasks.
Socially you may not want to be around people. Or you may not want to be alone.
And spiritually you may be questioning if there is a God. If there is a heaven or hell. You may find yourself searching for the meaning of the loss.
All of these are just some of the ways that grief shows up. For you it may be like this or it may be different. There’s no right way to grieve your loss.
Grief for those who have lost someone to suicide is even more complicated and painful. Along with the expected emotions of sadness and despair, the very painful emotion of guilt can rear its ugly head when someone dies by suicide.
It’s common to ask:
What could I have done?
What if I had been more attentive?
What did I not see?
Why didn’t they tell me?
Was I a good enough friend/parent/sibling/teacher?
All of these questions complicate one’s grief and make it that much harder to process.
The sad thing is we may never have adequate answers to these questions. We have to process all of the ways that grief hits us with the ache in our heart and in our gut carrying the knowledge that we may never know why.
Grief can make you feel crazy. Let me assure you, you’re not crazy. You’re grieving.
It’s important to understand that grief comes in waves. Sometimes you can ride those waves out gently, sometimes they knock you on your ass. But remember in time they will always subside.
If you are struggling with grief, and suicide grief in particular, I urge you to share your feelings with someone who can truly listen. Talk about all the ways that grief is impacting you, tell stories about your loved one, cry, laugh and express all that you are feeling. You might be comforted in knowing that you are not alone.
By Marna Brickman, LCSW-C
Co-Owner, Guiding Therapy