Unfortunately, stories are all too common where a loved one is here one day and gone from this world the next. Tears begin to flow, questions begin to be asked like, “What could I have done differently?” and the likely thought, “I wish I had known ______ was struggling so much.” It is easy to feel powerless and helpless in the face of any loss, but the feelings connected to a loved one taking their own life hit slightly differently. In the midst of grieving, here are some thoughts and suggestions on ways to cope with a loved one’s passing:
1. Let the emotions come. Grief, despair, shock, denial, guilt, confusion, maybe even relief. Give the emotions space to grow, move, and arrive and leave when they would like. Some days you may feel some emotions more strongly than others. Experiencing a wide range of feelings is normal.
2. There is no “right” way to grieve or cope. I cannot emphasize this enough: grief is not linear and processing grief looks different for everyone. There is no timeline for grief, only for carrying the feelings as they come. Don’t worry about what you “should” feel or do to cope. There is no right and there is no wrong.
3. Lean into your support systems. Family, friends, faith-based community members, classmates, co-workers - some of all of these may provide acceptance and support in processing grief.
4. Meet with a professional. Mental health professionals, including counselors, psychologists, social workers, etc. may all be helpful people to process your grief and serve as support systems. Locally in the Hampton Roads area, the Psychological Services Center (pscvb.com) sees individuals struggling with grief and can offer reduced therapy fees. Psychology Today is additionally a great resource to find local therapy services.
5. Stay present. Accept the grief as it comes. What do you need? Journaling to help release thoughts, maybe calling a close friend, maybe mindfulness or relaxation techniques that may help with overwhelmed feelings? Part of this is taking care of yourself: eating as well as you can, maybe exercising, and other activities that you are willing to try.
There are many healthy ways to process grief when a loved one dies by suicide. Remember, grief looks different for everyone, and I hope you take the time and space you need to process it accordingly. You are not alone, and I hope you feel supported and loved during this season. I am deeply sorry for your loss. No words can express the pain.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)