Supporting a friend after someone dies from suicide
The feelings experienced following the loss of someone we love is unique to everyone. When someone dies through suicide, this can be particularly painful. People may experience feelings of overwhelming sadness, anger, frustration, confusion or guilt. Handling such feelings can be hard so it’s really important to offer what support you can.
How to support someone
Don’t be scared to talk to them about how they feel. It’s OK to say you’re sorry for their loss. Let them know you’re there for them if they want to sound off angrily, a shoulder to cry on, or get out to do something to distract themselves for a while.
Even though you may worry about saying the wrong thing, or feel you could be intruding, try not to avoid them. They may ask for some space and it’s important to respect their wishes. But, avoiding them may make them feel worse. Remember, this is a time when they need a lot of support.
If you haven’t experienced grief personally, it could be hard to fully understand what they’re going through. It’s OK to feel unsure about how you can help them.
Learn about the grieving process
There’s a chance you may not have had experienced a death before. If this is the case, learn about what the different stages of grief are and the emotions that go along with them.
They include bargaining, denial, anger, depression and acceptance. Remember, people don’t always move through each stage in a certain order. Sometimes they can go through them more than once. Each stage is important and serves its own purpose.
However, when someone is grieving as a result of a suicide, there are certain emotions to especially be aware of.
Shock – They will likely experience shock from how quickly the person died and the fact they’re actually gone.
Anger – Your friend may feel angry at the person who died for leaving and abandoning them. They may also be angry at themselves for “not having seen the signs.”
Guilt – The person may often say to themselves, “what if I had checked in on them more often?” or, “if only I had been there, maybe they wouldn’t have felt so helpless.” Guilt often leads to feeling responsible for the person’s death, which can be difficult for someone to handle.
Despair – They may also feel overwhelming feelings of sadness, loneliness and helplessness.
Other intense reactions – Depending on the situation surrounding their friend’s or family member’s suicide, they may experience nightmares and flashbacks, especially if they found the person. This can be extremely difficult to cope with and can make concentrating and being around friends extremely difficult.
Keep in mind some of these feelings can last months after the death of your friend’s loved one. It isn’t something that just goes away quickly and it’s different for everybody. Check out loss and grief to find out more about the grieving process.
Letting them know you care
Friends are likely to be important to the person who is experiencing the loss, so let them know you’re there for them. Catch up with them for a coffee, give them a call, send them an email or some old fashioned snail mail.
If you’re calling in to them, phone or text first, to let them know you’re coming. If you’re unsure how to be helpful, or how to support them, don’t be afraid to ask. Ask them if there’s something they need, or something you can help them with.
If they need help, sometimes they may be too afraid to ask for it. Even if they say they don’t need help, or don’t know what help, just remind them you’re there for them either way.
Knowing what to say
Often it can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is experiencing grief, especially if you have never experienced grief yourself. Knowing what to say may be hard.
It’s OK to be honest. Let your friend know you don’t know what to say. You don’t have to have answers or advice for them, all they need is your support. Keep in mind there is no right or wrong way to grieve, so try to avoid telling them what they should or shouldn’t do or feel.
You may want to start by asking if there’s anything you can do. Your friend may appreciate knowing you’re around if they want a chat or just want someone to hang out with. Let them know you’re concerned about them. Ask how they’re feeling.
Sometimes people don’t necessarily want to talk, but appreciate not being alone. Check-in with them about this and spend some time with them not trying force them to talk about it. Just hanging out and chatting about normal stuff or getting out of the house for some fresh air can really help.
Staying in touch
Keep in contact with your friend, letting them know you’re around if they need you. Invite them along to acitivities. Remembering they’re probably going to cope better with quieter things like going to the movies or hanging out at someone’s place rather than going to parties.
Immediately after a funeral, the person typically receives good support from friends and family. However, a couple weeks, months, or even a year later the person can still be going through the grieving process. Others often forget and don’t continue to follow up on their support like they did immediately after the death.
Checking up on them periodically can serve as a reminder you’re still there to help them through everything. Remember them especially on holidays, anniversaries, or birthdays. These times of the year can be especially difficult for them.
Remember, experiencing a loss can cause people to feel lots of different things. Try to be understanding of your friend’s reactions as it may be that grief has affected them. Remember that everyone experiences loss differently. Some people may grieve longer than others, and sometimes it has to do with how close they were to the person who dies, and what the situation around their death was.
If they know you’re trying to understand and not judging them, they will feel much more supported by you. If they seem to be having an especially hard time, let them know, while you’re there for them, and will be, maybe a counsellor or therapist could provide another outlet.
There may be times they lash out at people they care about, or go through long periods of crying. The emotions your friend is experiencing can be really difficult and they can be unsure how to handle them. Try not to take their reactions personally. When it’s appropraite remind them what they’re experiencing is completely understandable.
In time your friend may want to talk about the person they have lost. This is often a sign they’re managing their grief. Giving them the chance to talk may be helpful for them. Be patient; even if you have heard the stories before, it’s not uncommon for people who’re grieving to go over the same stories a number of times. Read how to listen for more tips on being a good listener.
It’s OK to cry and grieve
It’s hard to see someone you care about upset and crying. It’s OK to cry, it’s often a good way to express sadness and may help them to feel better by giving a bit of release.
Look after yourself
It may be exhausting for you to share a loss, and difficult to see a good friend go through so much suffering. Taking time out for yourself is important. You may like to do something special for yourself. It may also be helpful to have someone you trust to talk with about how you’re feeling.
Finding help and information
Finding information about grief and loss may help your friend. Take a look at the face-to-face section for more information about how a counsellor can help.
The counselling directory website lists counsellors who specialise in loss and grief.