Helping you get through tough times

When someone takes their own life

Someone you love and cared for has taken their life. You may be feeling devastated. You may have feelings of shock, disbelief, and horror.

Why did they do it? Could I have prevented it?

abstraction of plant All these and tonnes of other emotions may overwhelm you, leaving you hurt, helpless, and confused. At times you may even question whether you are going mad.

You may wonder whether you or your family are the only people in the world experiencing such trauma. All these thoughts are very normal.

You are not alone

Many people before you have faced the same crisis and survived.

Death through suicide may deeply affect not only the closest family and friends, but also brings pain to more distant relatives and acquaintances, such as grandparents, cousins, friends, teachers, fellow workers, and counsellors.

You may be saying to yourself:

‘I’ve known this person for so long. I should have seen it coming.’

Changes in behaviour leading up to suicide are gradual. It is extremely difficult to identify them and to recognise at what point they become significant.

Once a person has made up their mind to take their life, they may go to considerable lengths to conceal their distress from those closest to them, because it is they who would be the most likely to discover and interrupt their plans.

Even doctors who specialise in this field have difficulty.

Emotional pain

Many people feel such intense emotional pain after the suicide of a loved one that they wonder whether they can survive. It certainly is possible to survive.

You may find it hard to believe now, but your grief will not stay the same. It will change as you work through it and you will come to feel more comfortable about your loss.

If you so choose, you may grow as a person from the experience, and integrate what happened into your existence. It may force you to create a more meaningful life for yourself and others. In effect, the influence of your loved one will still live on.

What to tell others

Many people find it extremely difficult to tell others the truth about the cause of death. They are tempted to give other reasons.

This strategy may seem to ease the initial embarrassment; in the long run though, it adds to the stress by committing them to further deception. Then when the truth eventually comes out there is the problem of explaining the original deception.

You may have to provide a statement about your loved one’s death to the place of education or work. This may benefit you by helping you to inform a number of people at one time. It’s best to give a simple statement: “the death was caused by suicide” without going into details.

What to tell children

Children may in some way feel themselves to be responsible for the suicide and need a great deal of reassurance and love. They usually know if the truth is withheld. They may learn facts from others and feel doubly rejected.

Children have the right to grieve, too. They need the opportunity to take part in all the formal ceremonies, even though they may not be appearing to take it all in.

Deeper discussion required

Adults frequently worry about telling children and young people that a loved one has taken their life. They’re concerned this may appear to condone suicide as an acceptable way out of extreme difficulties.

So, the discussion needs to proceed further, containing simple explanations that the loved one was sick and needed help but did not know how to ask.

Grasp this opportunity to discuss how and where your child or young adult could seek help if they were ever in need. Give simple straightforward information. Tell them, too, that you feel sad or angry.

Make it clear that it’s OK to talk about feelings. Give them lots of love and support.

Samaritans Ireland provides confidential and non-judgemental emotional support. They have a free helplin – 116 123 and email service: jo@samaritans.org.

This article was last reviewed on 10 May 2017

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