By Donna Kane, MA, CT
If you have lost someone to suicide, you are not alone. According to the World Health Organization, more than 700,000 people die by suicide each year throughout the world. Every one of these deaths impacts over six “suicide survivors” who cared deeply for the deceased. Many survivors are left struggling to understand why their loved one’s life ended this way. The feelings and experiences following this kind of loss can be complicated and overwhelming. This year, November 18th is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. It is observed annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving in the United States. This day is designated as a time when family and friends of people who have died by suicide can come together for support and healing.
Grief is a normal response to any loss, including a death by suicide. It is okay to feel anger, regret, shame, or guilt. It is okay to feel some or none of these emotions. For those of you who have lost someone to suicide, you know how difficult and frightening it is to talk about your loss. People may not understand. They may judge your loved one. They may be dismissive of your grief. Seek out people you feel safe talking to and share only as much as you are comfortable sharing. The stigma of a loss by suicide is real. Fortunately, through experience and education the stigma is decreasing as people become more understanding of this loss.
Telling your story is an important part of healing. Remember:
- There is no timeline for grief. Everyone’s journey is different.
- There is no right way or wrong way to grieve. It is a very personal experience.
- Give yourself and others permission and time to grieve.
- Ask for help to process your grief. Let your friends support you and look for resources like a group or a therapist. If you are feeling overwhelmed by despair or are having thoughts of suicide, remember that you can call or text 9-8-8, the National Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, 24 hours/day.
Healing is an on-going process. Every day, survivors of suicide are coping with their grief. Some days will be better than others and coping skills may change over time. The stages of grief are not linear. You can move back and forth, in and out, of one stage to another. Grief and Healing Expert David Kessler added “Finding Meaning” to the stages of grief. In his book Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, Kessler writes about moving forward and remembering the ones we lost with more love than pain. He includes the following caveats:
- Meaning takes time. You may not find it until months or years after a loss.
- Meaning is relative and personal. You do not need to understand what happened to find meaning.
- If meaning is found, it will not fill the absence of the person you lost.
- Loss is something that happens to everyone. Meaning is what you make happen.
- Only you can find your own meaning.
- Meaningful connections will help you to heal.
If you or a loved one are grieving for someone who died by suicide, help is available. Jewish Community Services offers a monthly group, Healing Conversations: A Group for Suicide Loss Survivor as well as therapy services and grief consultations. Our professionals are available to support and assist you through your journey of grieving. Self-care is not an indulgence. Care for yourself and get help when you find yourself overwhelmed.
Other resources include:
988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
Donna Kane, MA, CT, is a Grief Clinician and Coordinator of the Mitchell David Center for Hope & Healing at Jewish Community Services.
Jewish Community Services (JCS) provides programs and services for people of all ages and backgrounds, helping them achieve their goals, enhance their wellbeing, and maximize their independence. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.