Coping with the news of a death of someone we know is always difficult. Sometimes it is anticipated such as when a friend or loved one has been ill, or it comes as unexpected news such as an accident.
But hearing about a suicide can cause many ambiguous feelings. Shock and upset at the initial news. It’s the unexpectedness of the news that can be so unsettling and hard to take in. We can’t quite seem to absorb the reality of what has happened – its feel unreal. We don’t know how to feel or what to think about it.
Then questions set in in an attempt to understand it–‘Why would they do this?’ ‘What were they thinking?’ to ‘How did I not see it?’, ‘what could I have done to prevent this?’. These are just some examples of the many questions that arise when somebody ends their life in unforeseen circumstances.
Stages of Grief:
While you may be aware of the “grief stages,” it’s truly different for each person. Some of the common emotions experienced by anyone who mourns are listed below. You may encounter some or all of them, and in no particular order…
- SHOCK and DENIAL: The daze we feel immediately after hearing of the death of someone we know is the mind’s first line of defence. It insulates us from processing the enormity of the situation, allowing us to function in a time of great distress.
- ANGER: It is common to feel anger toward the person we have lost. Many who mourn feel a sense of abandonment. Others feel anger toward a real or perceived culprit or God.
- BARGAINING: ’If only they had…’ ‘If I had done…’ ‘If only…’
- SADNESS: Once the “reactive” emotions have either passed or become manageable, the basic sadness that accompanies any loss moves to the forefront. This may be felt more acutely when we are confronted with reminders or special occasions. As we gradually learn to accept our loss and embrace happy memories of our lost loved one, we make room in our hearts for happiness to re-enter.
- ACCEPTANCE: This is the mourner’s goal, to accept this tragic event as something that cannot be changed. Only with acceptance, can you move on with our lives.
“You were a moment in life that comes and goes, a riddle, a rhyme that no one knows. A change of a heart, a twist of fate. Couldn’t fix it, it’s too late” Kodaline
Friends and family who have experienced a suicide face all the same emotions as with any death, but they also face a somewhat unique set of painful feelings on top of their grief…
- GUILT: Could we have, might we have, or should we have done something to prevent the suicide. This mistaken assumption is one of the hardest to let go of for people. We can also struggle if there are unreconciled aspects of the relationship such as an argument or unanswered call or text before the death. This can be particularly strong if we know that the person was struggling before they died.
- STIGMA: Society still mis-assigns a stigma to suicide, and it is largely misunderstood. People hold many strong views about suicide and those who choose it as a way of ending their pain.
- DISCONNECTION: When we lose a loved one to an illness or an accident, it is easier to retain happy memories of them. We somehow find it easier to accept the death as it was unavoidable or beyond our control. But with suicide, we struggle with accepting it was out of our hands – we can feel we should have noticed something-somehow intervened. Because our friend or classmate seems to have made a choice about ending their life, we can feel a little disconnected from happy memories we shared with them. We are in a state of conflict with them, and we are left to resolve that conflict alone.
How can we help each other cope with the death of a friend or loved one through suicide?
Normalise the grief. Allow ourselves to engage in the same rituals we would use to grieve any death. It may be helpful to remind ourselves that suicide is a tragic outcome of depression or another mental health or coping strategy that the person was struggling with and just could not find a way through.
Respect differences. Remind ourselves that everyone grieves in different ways and at a different pace and so how others may appear to be coping may not be what they are feeling on the inside.
Encourage openness and stay close. Talk openly about our friend or classmates to each other and support each other through the grief.
Plan ahead. Plan ways to mark their passing and share thoughts and memories with each other.
Make connections. Circulate information about college student support services, support groups and resources for coping with loss through suicide.
Need for reason. “What if” questions can arise after any death. After a suicide, these questions may be extreme and self-punishing — unrealistically questioning or blaming those left behind for failing to predict the death or to successfully intervene. In such circumstances, it is important to realise that there may not have been any outward signs and accept that this was a decision made, as difficult as this is to understand.
How can DIT help you?
The DIT Counselling Service, the DIT Chaplaincy Service and Staff Body are here to support all students going through bereavement. As students you can also help each other through watching out for each other and/or getting each other the help you need by contacting one of the services in DIT:
The DIT Counselling Service: 014023352/0860820543
The DIT Chaplaincy Service: (01) 402 3639 / (087) 7477110
Samaritans: 116 123
Aware.ie: 1800080 48 48
Pieta House: 1800 247 247