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Navigating the Gift of Support: Witnessing a Friend Through the Loss of a Loved One to Suicide

The loss of a loved one to suicide is a heartbreaking and complex experience that requires careful support from friends and family. When the option of support from other survivors of suicide loss isn’t within reach, let’s explore some meaningful ways to provide comfort and solace to a friend who is grieving a loss by suicide.

A hand reaching out to another hand gripping a boulder.

Image: Vicki Nunn/Pixabay

1. Active Listening and Open Communication:

Individuals experiencing grief often need someone to talk to about their feelings, thoughts, and memories. Be an attentive listener without judgment, and encourage your friend to express themselves openly. People often need someone to listen without trying to offer solutions.

2. Offer a Non-Judgmental Space:

Guilt, anger, and confusion are common feelings that accompany suicide loss. Ensure your friend knows that it's okay to feel a range of emotions and that you're there to support them without any judgment or criticism. Remember, though your friend is going through a hard time and may seem different to you than usual, you can trust in their self-authority and let them know you see their strength.

3. Be Mindful of Your Language:

Choose your words carefully, as some phrases can inadvertently hurt or dismiss your friend's feelings. Avoid saying things like "I understand how you feel" or "It was for the best,” or proposing that the deceased is “in a better place.” Instead, offer phrases like "I'm here for you" or "I can't imagine what you're going through, but I'm here to support you."

4. Respect Their Grieving Process:

Grief is unique to each person. Some may want to talk about their loved one, while others may need space. Respect their pace and method of grieving, and let them know you're available whenever they're ready. Sometimes, a loss by suicide takes a couple months for folks to feel like they have “landed” into their regular lives. Your support may be most precious at that time, when the busyness at the onset of the loss has settled down.

5. Offer Practical Assistance:

In times of grief, even the simplest tasks can feel overwhelming. You might offer practical help like cooking a meal, running errands, or assisting with chores. If the person grieving has a network of friends, coordinating a drop-off meal train might be a compassionate option. These small gestures can make a significant impact during such a challenging period.

6. Encourage Professional Support:

Grieving after suicide loss can be particularly complex, and professional help may be necessary. Suggest that your friend think about therapy or support groups, and assure them that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. The thought of asking for help that is specific to suicide loss can feel scary and daunting. Do your best to adhere to your friend’s pace and try not to over-mention these options.

7. Remember Special Occasions:

Anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays can intensify feelings of loss. Mark these important dates on your personal calendar and reach out to your friend on these occasions to show that you remember and care.

8. Share Resources:

Provide resources on coping with grief after suicide, such as books, articles, or helpline numbers. These resources can offer additional guidance and support beyond your own efforts. This can be useful for your friend and can concurrently help you avoid being overwhelmed.

9. Check-In Regularly:

Grief doesn't have a set timeline. Statistics found by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention show that those who have lost loved ones to suicide often have a shorter time range of support from others than those who have lost a loved one to a chronic illness. Continue to check in on your friend periodically, even after the initial shock has worn off. Regular communication lets them know that you're a steady presence in their life.

10. Self-Care for Yourself:

It is likely that you will feel emotionally drained as you support your friend. Remember to take solid care of yourself, too. Reach out to your own support network, and consider seeking guidance from professionals if you find it challenging to cope with your friend's grief. Remember that you cannot change or fix the grief that your friend is feeling but being present and listening can have a positive impact.

Supporting a friend who has lost a loved one to suicide requires compassion, patience, and a willingness to be there through the ups and downs of their grieving process. By offering a listening ear, practical assistance, and respect for their unique journey, you can provide vital support during this difficult time.

Additional Resources:

Language Matters: an article about moving away from using the word "committed" in relation to suicide and why

Healing Conversations: a program offered by AFSP for a one-time visit with a Survivor who has a similar relationship to the loss. (For example, if your friend lost a child to suicide, they would be matched with a volunteer who lost a child and is a little further along in time.)


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