Surviving the suicide of a loved one is different than a natural death and can be especially traumatic. It is common for survivors to feel that they didn’t do enough to save their loved one, creating feelings of what is called survivor guilt.
As you wrestle with your feelings, do your best to be kind to yourself. There is no right way to grieve the loss of someone who dies by suicide. Your feelings are unique to you, and everyone grieves differently.
Some ways to cope with grief and trauma from suicide
- Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask the people closest to you for what you need, even if what you need is space.
- Don’t expect to just “get over it.” When a loved one dies by suicide, you may experience a lot of emotions all at once — shock, guilt, confusion or even anger. These are normal thoughts and emotions. Be patient with yourself as you cope and grieve and deal with any trauma you may be experiencing. The grieving process takes time. Loss is not something you “get over.”
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- Talk about your grief or trauma. Work to recognize the things you can handle on your own and those you can’t. You may want to contact the VA’s bereavement counseling, your installation’s chaplain or the minister at your place of worship, or a non-medical counselor through Military OneSource. You may find yourself searching for the right professional to talk to, and that’s OK.
- Get the support you need. You don’t have to grieve alone. If you find that friends and family in your support circle have their own issues to attend to, mental health professionals, suicide loss support groups, faith communities and the military community can lend you a helping hand. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
- Find resources available to you. Military OneSource provides resources and information for coping with the loss of a loved one, including through The Days Ahead: Essential Papers for Families of Fallen Service Members. You can also reach out for bereavement counseling through the VA.
- Prepare yourself for well-meaning but potentially hurtful comments. It is common for well-intentioned people to say insensitive things such as, “At least they are not in pain anymore” or “They are in a better place.”
- Take care of yourself. Do your best to give your body what it needs. Sleep, eat healthy food, meditate and exercise as much as you can.
- Seek immediate help if you are experiencing complicated grief. You will never be completely over the death of your loved one; however, your grief and trauma should become less intense as time passes. If you do not feel better over time or your grief is getting worse and your pain is so severe it keeps you from living your life, you may be suffering from “complicated grief.” There is a difference between grief and depression. If you are experiencing the following symptoms, talk to a professional grief therapist or counselor right away:
- Intense guilt — blaming yourself for your loved one’s death
- Thoughts of suicide — your mind being preoccupied with dying, feeling like life isn’t worth living, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness or wishing you had died with your loved one
- Inability to function — being unable to perform your normal activities at work, home or school.
Parenting after a suicide
If you’re a parent dealing with the suicide of a loved one, try to remember that children and teens grieve differently from adults. You can help them by telling the basic truth, answering their questions in an age-appropriate manner and sticking to your daily routines. Remember to assure them that they are not responsible for the death of their loved one, and find counseling and other resources for them as needed.
More ways to help children:
- Remain as calm as you can throughout the first days. In the first few days after you lose your loved one to suicide, you may feel like you’re losing control. You may have a great deal to do as you cope with your loss, and your children may need you now more than ever. Try to stay calm. And if you can’t handle everything you’re facing, get some help right away.
- Make sure your children know that they are not responsible. Because children are naturally self-centered, they may feel that the death is their fault. Reassure them that what happened is not their fault.
- Enroll your children in a bereavement camp. The Days Ahead also provides resources and advice for young people and families coping with the loss of loved ones. You may want to consider a bereavement seminar and camp for you and your children. These camps typically include grief sessions mixed with physical activities and social events to help relieve some of the powerful emotions you and your children may be feeling.
- Teach your children about self-care through bereavement and/or trauma counseling. Contact TRICARE, or call the Department of Veterans Affairs at 877-WAR-VETS or 877-927-8387 to get help. You can also contact Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 to see about civilian resources in your community.
Military OneSource offers non-medical counseling for parenting, stress management, and grief and loss issues. To get help, call 800-342-9647. For more information, you can also reach out to the Military and Family Support Center on your installation for Military and Family Life Counseling Program support. For OCONUS/International, click here for calling options.
If you or someone you know is suicidal or in a state of crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Note: Military OneSource does not provide medical counseling services for issues such as depression, substance use disorders, suicide prevention or post-traumatic stress disorder. This article is intended for informational purposes only. Military OneSource can provide referrals to your local military treatment facility, TRICARE or another appropriate resource.