Surviving the suicide of a loved one is one of the most difficult challenges one will ever face. The "survivors," the ones whom suicide leaves behind, are besieged with intense grief. This grief hurts desperately, but must be borne.

The grief that comes with suicide is unique. Remember that grief is like snowflakes or fingerprints. It is different for everyone. Choose the suggestions that may be helpful to you.

suggestions for helping yourself survive

In addition to the help of relatives, friends, and possibly a counselor, the survivor must make efforts to help him/her self. You are the one who sets the pace and limits of your grief. To some extent, you can shorten or lengthen the process of grief depending on your willingness to work through the grief.

Lean into the grief. You can't go around it, over it, or under it. You have to go through it to survive. It is important to face the full force of the pain. Be careful not to get stuck at some phase. Keep working on your grief.

As soon as you are able, begin to deal with the facts of suicide. The longer that the facts are avoided or denied, the more difficult the recovery could be. Get the facts straight about the suicide - whats, whys, and hows. To know the facts relieves the survivor's doubts and allows them to face the truth. It is important to be honest with oneself and face the reality that the death was a suicide.

It may be helpful to make reference to the suicide at the funeral.

The emotions of a survivor are often raw.

It is important to let these feelings out.

If you don't let your feelings out now, they will come out some other time, some other way. That is certain.

You won't suffer nearly as much from "getting too upset" as you will from being brave and keeping your honest emotions all locked up inside.

Share your "falling to pieces" with supportive loved ones, as often as you feel the need.

You may have psychosomatic complaints which are physical problems brought on by an emotional reaction. The physical problems are real. Take steps to remedy them.

Don't be afraid to ask for help from those close to you when you need it. So much hurt and pain go unheeded during grief because we don't want to bother anyone else with our problems. Wouldn't you want someone close to you to ask for help if they needed it? Some relatives and friends will not be able to handle your grief. Find someone with whom to talk. Seek out an understanding friend, survivor, or support group member.

Most survivors feel it is important to see their dead loved one at the time of the death and funeral. Otherwise there can always be that nagging doubt "Is my loved one really dead?" Grief may take longer because the reality of the death isn't faced. Survivors often stay longer in denial when they have not seen with their own eyes.

Keep a daily diary of your thoughts and feelings.

Don't be afraid to say the word suicide. It may take months to be able to say it, but keep trying.

For some survivors there is a tendency to withdraw to their room, isolate themselves from friends and family, and constantly dwell on their feelings. This may be helpful initially, but not when carried to an extreme.

Some survivors throw themselves into their work or take flight in activity. This prevents the person from dealing with the grief. Save time to face your grief.

Thinking that you are going crazy is very normal. Most grieving people experience this. Remind yourself that you are not losing your mind but are reacting to a devastating blow.

Don't assume that everyone is blaming you or thinking ill of you. They probably are hurt for you but don't know what to say or how to say it.

Be prepared that relatives may say seemingly cruel or thoughtless things because of their own pain, frustration, or anger.

Do not be afraid to tell those around you exactly how you feel. You may need to remind another that you are not quite yourself. Tell them how much you appreciate their patience and understanding.

Some feel that the less said the better and that everyone should try to forget. Studies show this to be the least effective and usually the most damaging approach. Survivors need to release their feelings and resolve their questions, not lock their troubles deep inside.

Work on guilt. Something beyond your control has happened. Blaming oneself for the actions of another is illogical and dangerously self damaging.

Read recommended literature on suicide and grief. The reading will not solve all of your pain and questions, but it does offer understanding and suggestions for coping.

If grief is intense and prolonged, it may harm your physical and mental well being. If it is necessary, seek out a competent counselor. Check to see if your health insurance covers the charges. It is important to take care of yourself. Then you can be of help to your family also.

In a time of severe grief be extremely careful in the use of either alcohol or prescription drugs. Tranquilizers don't end the pain; they only mask it. This may lead to further withdrawal, loneliness, and even addiction. Grief work is best done when you are awake, not drugged into sleepiness.

It helps to admit our mistakes. We are human. There is so much that we tried to do. There are things we did not do. Accepting our imperfections aids us in working out our grief.

If you feel guilt, ask yourself what things specifically are bothering you the most. Talk over your feelings of guilt with a trusted friend or professional, or confess your guilt to God. Telling the truth about why you feel guilty will help. Forgive yourself, ask the forgiveness of your loved one, and of God. Then try to realize what happened is past. There is nothing that you can do about it now. Become determined to live life to the best of your ability now. God's forgiveness should help us to begin to forgive ourselves.

You can learn from your guilt and adopt a new lifestyle for the future. From past mistakes you may be able to change for the better.

Depression is common to those in grief. Be aware of withdrawing from others and isolating yourself. You may even consider suicide yourself. Be sure to get counseling help if you feel this way.

Some survivors find it helpful to give the clothes to the needy and to rearrange furniture. Be cautious about moving. Later, after the pain subsides, you may regret moving from the happy memories.

It may be beneficial to concentrate on helping other family members and friends, but don't ignore problems that may be building inside you.

Take an empty chair and put a picture of your loved one in it.

Tell all your feelings about what happened, remember the good times, and tell of your guilt.

It is a way of articulating those confusing thoughts and finishing unfinished business. It is easy and understandable to feel sorry for yourself, but, unchecked, self-pity can lead to anger, bitterness, and depression. Some survivors build a wall around themselves because they are afraid of being hurt again. They miss so much of life this way. It is important to love and enjoy the people in your life instead of distancing from them.

Become involved in the needs of other people. Doing things for others builds one's self confidence and self-worth.

Join a self-help support group. Such groups offer understanding, friendship, and hope. Surviving Suicide, a support group for adult survivors, meets at Central Christian Church (3375 S Mojave Road 702/735-4004) on the first and third Tuesday of each month.

The Suicide Prevention Center of Clark County also provides a Survivors of Suicide support group. Information about that group is available by calling the Suicide Prevention Hot Line at 731-2990. A volunteer will return your call.

Don't become discouraged that you are alone in your grief. Sometimes it is helpful to contact other survivors of a suicide. When you read about a suicide in the paper you may want to write a short note to the survivors and give your phone number.

If appropriate, encourage community education on what it is like to survive the suicide of a loved one. Many people truly care but they don't know what to do or say.

Your anger may be directed at the deceased, yourself, others, God, or you may just feel angry. It is extremely important to get the anger out. This may be done by going to a remote spot and screaming, chopping wood, hitting a punching bag, playing tennis, swimming, pounding a pillow, etc. Anger that is not recognized and directed outward may turn back on you. Such anger unleashed at ourselves is very harmful. It is best to be honest with your close friends about the suicide. If you aren't honest with them, then you will always wonder if and how much they know. You won't be able to lean on your friends, and this leads to isolation and loneliness.

It is helpful to consider that usually the victim wanted to stay and to live. Yet, at the same time, he or she couldn't live, so, in confusion, gave in to suicide.

At the anniversary of the suicide, birthday, and special holidays get together with a few understanding friends or relatives, or somehow find a way to escape the full brunt of the occasion. It is important to plan the day. It won't be great, but it can be less painful if you don't expect too much of yourself or others.

It is not helpful to compare yourself to another survivor of suicide. It may not seem that you are adjusting as well as they are. Remember that no two people go through grief alike. If you are troubled and don't know where to turn, call a 24-hour Suicide Prevention Hot Line. In Las Vegas that telephone number is 731-2990.

Remember the commandment "Love Your Neighbor as Yourself."

Of all the times in your life this is one where you need to take gentle care of yourself as you would care for someone else trying to survive.

The best remedy for heartache is to lead as happy a life as possible.

You and your genuine friends understand that you have done your best to work though your grief and now you are trying to reinvest in life. If others don't understand, don't worry about them. Surviving and rebuilding your life is what is important.

When you are ready, aim at regaining a healthy, balanced life by broadening your interests. As a survivor you should take time to think through which activities can bring you some degree of purpose.

Remember to start slowly and move carefully in this direction - with friends who are supportive and understanding. Think about taking up something you've always wanted to do: going back to school; volunteering; joining church groups; community projects; or hobby clubs. Practice taking one moment - one day - at a time.

Say to yourself, "I have decided to live!"

Recognize that you have been hit with a terrible tragedy and yet you have still survived. You had no choice and no control over the suicide but you do have a choice to survive and live through it. It may be the hardest task that you will ever have to perform, but you will survive!

These suggestions were gleaned from Suicide: Prevention, Intervention, Postvention by Earl Grollman, Beacon Press, 1971; Understanding Suicide by William Coleman, David Cook Publishing Co., 1979; After Suicide by John Hewitt, Westminster Press, 1980, and from suggestions by Mickey Vorobel, a survivor.

suggestions for coping as a family

It is important to sit down together to talk, cry, rage, feel guilty and even to be silent. Communication is the key to survival in the aftermath of suicide. At the same time there should be respect for each person's individual way of handling grief.

Some family members will grieve privately, others openly, and others a combination of these two styles. In many ways each family member must grieve alone.

Here are some suggestions to help with family grief:

- Pay attention to your family members when you're with them.

- Let them know that you love them.

- Be sensitive to how other family members feel.

- Listen to what is meant as well as what is being said.

- Accept the other person and what they say.

- Don't give each other the silent treatment. This has many negative effects.

- Sit back and listen. Let other family members have an opportunity to talk.

- Be sure to hug and touch each other at every opportunity.

- If depression, grief, or problems in your family are getting out of control, seek the advice of a counselor.

- Recognize that anniversaries, birthdays and special holidays will be difficult for the family and each member of the family.

Remember you can't help anyone if you are falling apart. Do what you can do, get help for what you can't do, and trust in the future.

a bereaved person's self-esteem is extremely low

Survivors should work on their image of themselves and help each family member to think and feel good about themselves.

If there is a suicide note, discuss as a family what to do with it. If you think it will only bring you pain, then have a private burning and commit its contents to God.

suggestions for helping survivors

Bereaved people, especially suicide survivors, need the support, love, and concern of their relatives and friends. Often a survivor is like someone who has trouble standing by him or herself. It is up to us to reach out to help.

Their basic needs are for kindness and caring. With time, understanding, and the concern of their friends, the survivor's feelings of grief will soften.

The following suggestions would apply to both the time immediately after the suicide, including the funeral, and for as long as necessary afterwards:

- Make an extra special effort to go to the funeral home.

- The shock, denial, and embarrassment are overwhelming for the survivors. They need all the support they can get.

- Due to the cause of death, in most cases the coffin is left closed.

- When going to the funeral home, do as you would normally do at any other type of wake.

- It will not be easy, since you sincerely want to comfort the bereaved person, but really don't know what to say. Just a few words can be a help. "I am so very sorry, I just don't know what else to say to you as I have never been through what you are going through now." "Please accept my deepest and sincerest sympathies; my heart goes out to you."

- When the person is close, take their hand, by all means hug them and don't feel the need to say anything.

- Don't be afraid to cry openly if you were closed to the deceased. Often the survivors find themselves comforting you but at the same time they understand your tears and don't feel so all alone in their grief.

- Don't say "It was God's will" or "God called your loved one home because He needed some flowers in His Garden." Such explanations do not console.

- Survivors can tend to become more paranoid than the average person. The guilt is so overwhelming that when people do not attend the funeral or send a card the guilt increases.

- A note or visit in the weeks and months to come is of great help to the survivors.

- Don't try to comfort the survivor by saying "It was an accident, a terrible accident." The survivors need to start dealing with the fact of suicide.

- Do not say "He or she was on drugs or drunk." You weren't there during the suicide, so how could you possibly know? It is not helpful or necessary to give reasons for the suicide.

- Survivors may ask "Why?" It is best to say "I don't know why and maybe I'll never know."

- Be aware that the survivor's grief is so painful that sometimes it is easier to deny that it ever happened. Be patient and understanding. Sometimes this denial gives them a breather before the reality comes crashing in again.

- Come to the survivors as a friend who sets aside prejudice and judgment. Show genuine and sincere interest. Don't say that the suicidal person was not in his or her right mind or was "crazy". The majority of people who complete suicide are ambivalent and tormented; they may have a character disorder or are neurotic, but they are not insane. Telling the survivors that the person was crazy may invoke worries of inheriting mental illness.

- Suicide is not inherited.

- Be a good listener. Survivors have a tendency to repeat and ramble. They may have a tremendous sense of guilt. It is helpful to listen over and over and over again. Be patient.

- Often the survivor is the first one to realize that they are not easy to get along with, but they need people to persevere with them until their grief eases.

- Don't say "snap out of it." Often the survivor reacts to such a statement by pushing down his or her feelings and thoughts which slows the process of working through ones grief.

- Be the type of friend with whom the survivor can talk and feel comfortable and accepted.

- Be available to spend time with the survivor. Most people find the best way to work through their emotions is to talk them out with someone they trust.

- When the survivor tells about their feelings often they are helped in understanding what is going on. Talking also releases some of their pressures. Often while talking the survivor comes up with his or her own solutions.

- Survivors have every right to feel sensitive. Some people deliberately avoid the survivors. They will cross the street or pretend that they don't see the survivors. This adds to their guilt. Such actions are not done out of malice, but rather out of confusion about what to say.

- It is not important to make every effort to befriend the survivor and to reach out.

- Encourage the bereaved to talk. It is of not help to say "Don't talk about it." Let the person pour his heart out. It is helpful to share pleasant and unpleasant memories; to get in touch with what they are feeling; and to express what they think.

- Vicious and cruel remarks are sometimes made. They hurt the survivor deeply. Don't repeat such remarks and try to help the originators of the remarks to realize the hurt that they are causing the survivor.

- Don't start telling the survivors that your child or friend "almost" tried to commit suicide an you "know" how they feel. Your loved one is still alive and theirs is dead.

- Never say "you'll get over it in time." Hopefully, the survivor will learn to deal with it and cope with it in time, but never will they "get over it."

- Discussing the signs of suicide with a survivor is not helpful since the suicide is a fact. Telling them "there must have been signs indicating depression" only lays more guilt on the survivor.

- Be sincere if you ask "How are you coming along?" and then really listen to what the survivor says.

- Don't prevent him from talking.

- Don't change the subject or walk away.

- The anniversary of the suicide is a very painful time. Relatives and friends should make every effort to be available, to listen, to call, to visit, to send a note, to do little acts of thoughtfulness.

- Accept the survivor's feelings. Practice unconditional love.

- Feelings of rage, anger, and frustration are not pleasant to observe or listen to, but it is necessary for the survivor to recognize and work on these feelings in order to work through the grief rather than become stuck in one phase.

As time goes on, it is still appropriate to say that you are sorry or to reminisce about the loved one. It is comforting to survivors that their loved one hasn't been forgotten and that people are still concerned about them as survivors.

reflections of a survivor


We must make a conscious decision to be an active participant in our own healing process.


We must give ourselves permission to grieve deeply for a season.


While on the healing journey we must ask God and safe, supportive people to be our traveling companions - to share our sorrow, ease our fears, defuse our anger, and process our guilt. In relationship we have a much better chance to reclaim our joy.


We must give ourselves grace and truth and time to eventually accept our loss and forgive others and ourselves.


All the while we must gently and gradually ease ourselves back into reality.


We are forever changed, yet essentially the same ... living, breathing, loving, inherently precious.


We can now be seasoned traveling companions for other survivors on the recovery road.

Copyright 2004 Linda L. Flatt

500 Onondaga Blvd.
NY 13219
T (315) 475-4673/475-9675

Article from HOPE FOR BEREAVED handbook, available at above address: $13.50 plus $2.50 postage and handling.


coping with suicide

When someone close to you commits suicide, you may experience the following reactions:

- You may have a strong and perpetual need to know what happened The frustrating aspect of this need is that the facts have died with the person. You may never know what truly happened.

- There is a legacy of guilt left by the suicide event The if-onlys and I-wishes can lead to extreme stress and anxiety. Coming to the conclusion that you could not have done anything to prevent the suicide may take time but can happen as you share your guilt with someone you trust.

- Our society still assigns stigma to suicide It is hard to tell other family members and friends that someone committed suicide. Other people still may wonder what really happened or add judgement to their perceptions of what happened. A support group or organization that helps survivors of suicide can offer a place of acceptance of your loss.

- Because there may never be the complete answer to what happened, you can help yourself by trying to make some sense of it in your own mind You can write a letter to the person, for example. Or you may want to write a letter to yourself from the person who died.

- It may be difficult to stop thinking about the suicide and to be preoccupied with the whole series of events It is important to try to make life as normal as possible. Getting back into a routine and accepting what happened as over and in the past may help.

- Learning that sometimes other survivors think about suicide may help, too It's not that they have a plan to do it; just that they think about it.

- You may find yourself not able to trust in relationships You may find it difficult to love again because loving means risking being hurt again. Again, talking with someone and working out these feelings is a very helpful way to heal the pain of loss.

- Feeling resentment that others continue to live whereas the loved one has died, or that others are not mourning.

- Experiencing temporary periods of acute grief long after the death.

- Experiencing some aspects of mourning that continue for many years, if not forever Mourning does not decline in a linear fashion with time.

If you have concerns about the behavior of someone who has experienced a traumatic loss, talk with them about it and offer your support in arranging professional help.

Copyright 2002 Griefworks BC

Contact this excellent website for archived articles on grief

a family left behind

If you happen to be one of the growing numbers hurled into this nightmare, it may help somewhat to know all those emotions you are struggling with are normal in this situation. No, you are not losing your mind; there are many of us that can relate to your feelings.

But if you have ever considered suicide, please walk with me through the first few weeks following Nov. 16, 1998 ...

The phone call came around 10:30 PM.

After I said hello, I heard a female voice demand: "Who is this?"

"No," I said, "Who is this?"

In a blur of emotion, panic, and pain the female on the other end of the line rambled off that she was a friend of my son.

"Rob just shot himself! He's dead!" she bellowed.

I remember calling the police of the town where it happened so I could verify it, but in my heart I knew the pain and panic in that voice could not be faked. I remember calling his father, who lives in another state, but I don't remember the conversation. I just know that in my shock and numbness I babbled. I remember paging my youngest daughter's friend - "Please bring her home immediately!" As she came through the door there was no hiding the pain I was feeling, and she knew immediately something was very wrong.

"What happened?" she demanded.

Oh, how can I tell these girls? They adore their brother so! I could barely speak, so I put my arms around her, and in as few words as possible I told her: "Your brother shot himself tonight." We hugged and cried, then she vanished to her room to call her youth pastor.

Somehow in the next hour we managed to track down her sister, and they went to pick her up. How they managed to drive 20 minutes with her in the same car and not tell her, I still don't know, but we felt it was best that I told her. She had a bad fight with Rob the last time they talked and I was especially concerned about her.

As I hugged my oldest daughter tight, I said: "Honey, your brother shot himself tonight."

She slid through my arms to the floor like jello. "NO! Mommy, it's all my fault! I know it's all my fault!"

The rest of that night is a blur of numbness and my mind racing irrationally. All the whys, and how's, and what-ifs ... on and on.

Early the next morning the phone rang and a stranger very matter-of-factly told me who he was, what mortuary he was with, told me they needed permission to embalm the body, and then asked me: "Where do you want the body sent?"

The body? The body? He was calling my son "the body"!

For the next few weeks I was on automatic pilot. I didn't "do" anything, I merely responded to voices on the phone or someone around me needing answers. My oldest daughter went into denial and was snotty to everyone around her. My youngest daughter didn't - and still doesn't - want to talk about it. We all cry and try to deal with it in our own way, but we have each gone through a million battles in our minds ...

"Why couldn't I have done something to stop him?"

"What signs did I miss?"

"Didn't he know how much I loved him?"

"Why ..?"

After several weeks the shock began to wear off and the reality of it all set in. He really isn't coming through that door again. This isn't just a nightmare that will eventually end. Our beloved Rob has stepped over the threshold of heaven, and his days here with us are no more.

My healing is coming in throwing myself into suicide prevention issues striving to reach someone else's child in time, and spare other families from this kind of pain. My oldest daughter is joining a hospice group. The youngest is pretending the army sent him away again.

How do you ever put into words an ache that reaches to the depth of your soul and back again?

There are days that I long to hug him again, to tease him about those dimples I loved so, or to watch him wrestle on the floor with the babies.Those longings will never cease.

But I am confident that we will heal and go on, because we have to.

I will not willingly surrender to the same things that stole my son from me. I will strive to make a difference! I will not focus on his death because in doing so, we will all "die" daily. Instead I will focus on his life and keep him alive. We have so many memories of him ...

"Do you remember when he ...?" [smile]

We have made our way through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Valentine's Day, and all three of us have had our birthdays.

I would be lying to you if I said it's getting easier. It is not. Just about the time the shock and numbness wore off totally, and the emotions came full strength again, people started pushing me to "go on with life."

About two weeks ago it really hit my oldest daughter, and she did a lot of crying. This week it hit my youngest daughter. Both had some very tough days coming to grips with it. They both adored their brother. Every time I think I'm moving on and doing well, something overwhelms me and I have to dig for more strength to fight my way through it.

I still think I see him places, or hear his voice sometimes. One day I found myself following a car because the young man driving looked so much like my son from the back. He even sat in the car the same way. (Is that a part of me that's in denial, hoping he really didn't die?)

But I will not give in to grief and depression. It's easy to allow yourself to fall into those things, but they are all-consuming. The more you allow it, the more it pulls you in.

I think one of my most difficult battles has been with my mind. I've dealt with death before with people that I loved dearly, but losing a child is so totally different from any other kind of death. Only those that have been through it can truly understand.

I was totally unprepared for the loss of concentration, and the battle I had in getting back my ability to think. It was so frustrating to me. At first I literally thought I was losing my mind. I still have days that it hits me, but for the most part I am able to function again in the day to day things of life.

It seems to hit me when I feel pressured or pushed, and then I suddenly feel very fragile again. I have to work hard at staying on top of that. I will be eternally grateful to God that my son loved Him and he waits for us in heaven.

This separation for us is a temporary one.

But I still have to fight the natural emotions because I miss him dearly! I am also grateful because I had 27 years with this young man, and I have memories that will keep him with me forever. I will celebrate his birthdate, and not have rituals on his death date.

I will hold dear our memories, for it is his life that gave me pleasure, and it's those memories that keep him alive here. Yes, he was about life, not death. I'm an eternal optimist, so I'll heal much faster than most.

Most families spend years, if not the rest of their life, trying to move on beyond the suicide. So if you're considering suicide, please think about what it will do to your family.

Please don't do it!

They love you and you have no idea the effect it will have on them. Suicide is a permenant "solution" to a temporary problem.

There are people to help you find answers. Please contact them. Please help me in the fight to make the affects of suicide known, and to reach out to other survivors that feel like they can't make it though the guilt and the pain.

There are over 210, 000 new survivors every year, and very few supports groups for them! If you would like information about meetings, please email me or these people.

Thank you, and God bless you!

Road2healing For Survivors
601-2 Harwood Rd.
Box 138
TX 76021

* scroll down this page for international helplines *

Grief: different experiences, different expressions
Anger + depression
Trauma + recovery
Illness: a new perspective
Suicidal urges
Learn about Antonella Gambotto-Burke ...
A healthy life
The healing power of hope
In debt?
The laughter page
Find your own North Star
Optimism - the key
How to feel better about yourself
Feel like a hug?
An inspiring interview with Louise Hay

Message board for survivors of suicide - NOW!
Online support for suicide survivors - NOW!

Surviving suicide

FREE suicide survivor counseling * strongly recommended
Create a memorial for your beloved
If you're suicidal and want non-religious support, email here
Neighbours who Care
Compassionate Friends
Suicide survivors newsletter
Great free guided audio online relaxation exercises
Suicide survivors' website * strongly recommended
Overcoming Sleep Problems, by the father of a murdered girl
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Trauma and Grief

Samaritans (national) - 0345 909 090
National Association of Bereavement Services - 0171 247 1080

Compassionate Friends: Shadow of Suicide Support Groups - 0117 953 9639
American Association of Suicidology
Suicide Prevention Centre crisis line - 297 4777
Suicide Information and Education Centre
T 403 245 3900
F 403 245 0299
South Australia: Bereaved Through Suicide - 08 8332 8240
Victoria: Our Lady of Assumption Church - 03 9521 6567
Tasmania: Dorset Support Group - 03 6353 2255
New South Wales: Bereaved by Suicide - 02 9419 8695/ 02 9419 4135
Central Coast: Mental Health Services - 02 4320 3170
Queensland: Survivors of Suicide - 079 781 843/ 079 781 583/ 074 045 2955
Western Australia: Survivors of Suicide: 08 9381 5555