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Unveiling the Heart: Navigating Emotions after Suicide Loss

Updated: Feb 22

In the silent aftermath of losing a loved one to suicide, emotions become a turbulent sea, with waves of guilt, anger, and profound grief crashing against the shores of our existence. This blog invites you to navigate the complex labyrinth of feelings that survivors grapple with in the wake of such a devastating loss.

From the weight of self-blame to the isolating shadows of stigma, we embark on a journey through the heartache, shedding light on the common struggles that weave through the fabric of survivorship. In exploring these emotions, we aim to offer solace, understanding, and a beacon of hope for those seeking to navigate the challenging terrain of life after suicide.

A person with head in hands seen through a train window

Image by Anja/Pixabay

Guilt and Self-Blame:

  • Guilt and self-blame are common emotions felt after suicide loss, specifically, and not as common with other types of loss.

  • Survivors of suicide loss may question if there was something they could have done differently or something they could have said to stop the tragedy. Many new survivors may blame themselves if they believe there were signs they "should" have noticed but did not. These feelings are particularly hard to grapple with, on top of the grief of losing a beloved person.

  • Suicide is a complex experience and though we have learned a lot through research, there's still a lot we don't know about the experience of the person who decides to take their life. In the wake of losing a loved one, self-compassion is extremely important. Anger and Confusion:

  • Intense emotions of anger and confusion can be quite turbulent to a survivor, especially in the moment of learning the news and in the first weeks after the loss.

  • There may be conflicting feelings towards the person who died or towards oneself. Concurrently, there may be denial or feelings of surreality that compounds the experience.

  • As Dr. David Treadway explains in episode 2 of Rob Hlavaty's Writing on the Walls Podcast, "the heart and the brain sort of short circuit... The feelings are too big to process and this whole system shuts down."

  • Though healthy ways to express and manage these emotions may not be easy to access at the onset of the loss, physical activity, rest and meditation may benefit survivors at this time. Overwhelming Grief and Sorrow:

  • The profound grief and sadness that accompanies the loss of a loved one to suicide can feel excruciating. It is natural for survivors to find themselves crying at the drop of a hat many times during a day for weeks at a time. Others may respond in numbness where they can't quite get a hold of their feelings.

  • Of course, there are unique challenges of grieving a death by suicide because of the stigma associated with it. Statistics found by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention have shown that survivors of suicide actually receive support from their communities for far less time than those who have lost a loved one to chronic illness.

  • There is a great need for allowing oneself to grieve. Seeking support is vital. Some folks prefer one on one support with a professional, like a therapist, and others have found peer-support helpful in groups. Shame and Stigma:

  • Because of the societal stigma and shame surrounding suicide, survivors may be approached with unhelpful language from others in their lives. The word "committed," though antiquated and carrying a connotation of criminality, is still common in the way people talk about suicide. Additionally, there are religious beliefs that suggest people who kill themselves will be punished. Those with a fairly shallow understanding of suicide may suggest that it is "a selfish act" or that it is "cowardly."

  • The majority of our culture lacks understanding of societal factors that can contribute to suicidal ideation or death and does not know how to talk compassionately about these losses.

  • Survivors may internalize these negative perceptions, which can greatly impact their healing process.

  • More open conversations are necessary to reduce stigma in the United States, where suicide is the 11th leading cause of death. Legislation is needed, as well, not only to promote mental health awareness, but to dissolve barriers to access. Access to services are a great complement to changes in attitudes. Isolation and Loneliness:

  • Because of the culture of silence around suicide loss, a common experience of survivors is feeling isolated and lonely in their grief. Survivors feel disconnected from even the most well-meaning and caring friends who haven't been through the experience of suicide loss.

  • The stigma around suicide can also contribute to a sense of alienation. Survivors may not feel comfortable talking about their loss or the person out of conditioned embarrassment in light of the stigma.

  • It is important to build a support network made up of those folks the survivor can be totally themself with when they feel they're in pieces. Additionally, seeking professional help will also contribute to combatting the isolation the survivor feels.

There are certainly other intense emotions that come up for survivors within the intricate landscape of grief after losing a loved one to suicide. The goal here was to share some of the most common feelings that can be expected after a suicide loss.

May these words stand as a testament to resilience, understanding, and the shared strength of survivors. In the face of guilt, anger, grief, stigma, and isolation, remember that healing is not a linear journey, and seeking support is an act of courage. May these insights serve as guiding lights, illuminating the path toward compassion, self-love, and connection.

In honoring the memory of those we've lost, we forge a collective strength that transcends the pain. Together, we navigate the complexities, weaving threads of hope into the tapestry of survival.



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