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Suicide Survivors

By Chloe Smith, MSW Intern

A reported 44,965 people die by suicide in the United States every year. For each person who dies by suicide, an estimated six or more “suicide survivors” are left grieving and struggling to understand the death of their loved one. 

Every 40 seconds someone in the world dies by suicide. Every 41 seconds someone is left to make sense of it. International Survivors of Suicide Day
Image taken from Trick Hat Media

Who are suicide survivors?

Suicide survivors are people who have lost someone they care about by suicide. The suicide of someone you care about is a devastating tragedy. It happens to the best of people and the best of families. You may never forget the pain associated with loss of your loved one, but with time, the intensity of the feelings lessens, and you can find support.

The five stages of grief

Following the death of your loved one, you may experience what is known as the  Five Stages of Grief. The Five Stages of Grief is used to help describe the process someone goes through while grieving their loved one’s death. While the Five Stages of Grief is a helpful model to resonate with, it does not represent how someone should grieve. Everyone grieves differently. Grief is not a linear process. While everyone’s journey of grief is different, resonating with the five stages of grief may help you make some sense of the way you feel. 

Stage 1: Denial

Denial can feel like a state of total and utter shock. You may find yourself asking, “Did this really happen?” Some believe that denial is a survival instinct for the aftermath of the unknown. Denial can be a natural response to death by suicide. How can someone cope with something that they truly cannot understand?  

Stage 2: Anger

Anger can be ever so real in someone’s grief process. How can you not be angry at somebody or something for the loss you have experienced? You may even find yourself becoming angry at yourself. Some people find anger as a way to cope with the hardship. Anger can be used to mask the pain and get you through the proceeding days after your loved one’s death.  

Stage 3: Bargaining

Bargaining is consumed by the “what ifs.” Because you will never know what would have happened “if” something was done differently, a survivor will ask themselves this time and time again. This stage of grief is different for a survivor because you aren’t necessarily trying to bargain with anyone, rather you are trying to make sense of the unknown. You can guess and assume, but you will never truly know.  

Stage 4: Depression

Depression represents feelings of sadness you may feel after the death of your loved one. Do you find yourself losing interest in things you use to enjoy? Is it hard to get out of bed in the morning? Do you notice that your mood is always low?  

Stage 5: Acceptance

Acceptance is another part of the grief process. Acceptance does not mean that you believe everything is okay. Acceptance means that you are not okay with your loved one’s decision, but you have accepted it as a part of your life. Survivors find a way to adapt. This stage may happen in days, months, or even years. There isn’t a right or wrong amount of time- every person grieves differently.  

Suggested Stage 6: Guilt

Some wonder if  guilt should be another stage of grief for suicide survivors. Survivors report that they reexamine the final days of their loved one’s life and find themselves asking if there was anything they could do further. Survivors blame themselves and wonder if they could have changed the outcomes.  

Grief spirals

Some people experience grief spirals. In other words, people move in and out of the emotions described above. Those experiencing grief may feel they accomplished acceptance with their situation, but then later in life again be in denial. Some people experiencing grief do not always identify with each stage described above. Rather, they may only identify with two stages. 

How to heal from a loved one's suicide

Healing from suicide by a loved one is a monumental task, but it can be done. A loved one’s suicide can trigger intense emotions of anger, shock, numbness, guilt, despair, sadness, loneliness, rejection, and confusion. The aftermath of a loved one’s suicide is physically and emotionally exhausting. 

Protect your own well-being

As you experience your own journey of grief, protect your own well-being. Adopt healthy coping strategies. Reach out for support from family and friends. Surround yourself by people who are willing to listen, or simply offer a shoulder when you need to be silent.  

Do what fits you

It’s important to remember that everyone grieves in their own way. Do what fits you. Don’t rush yourself or be hurried by others' expectations. Some days are better than others. Know that it’s OK to grieve the way you need to grieve- healing doesn’t happen in a straight line.  

Learn about the complexity of suicide

You might always wonder why it happened, but eventually the intensity of your grief will fade. However, understanding the complexity of suicide and learning how to cope with intense grief can assist you in healing and finding peace. Consider a support group. Consider speaking to a clinician who specializes in grief counseling.  

Be patient with yourself

Most importantly, remember to be patient with yourself. Time, by itself, does not heal but how you use that time is what is important. Take small steps and develop coping strategies. Try reaching out to others. You don’t have to let your brokenness defeat you. Turn your hurt and pain into compassion. Let your compassion be at the service of others. For when pain is used to reach out to others, it can be transformed into love.  

A man looking over a vista of hills.  Quote: Many people who choose suicide do so to end their pain not realizing that their pain becomes the pain of all those they leave behind.
Image from Les Femmes - The Truth

How to get help

Grief is natural to human nature. However, unresolved grief (or not working through your
grief), can turn into complicated grief. Depending on your circumstances, you may benefit from seeking help. There are many options and resources for helping you get through this tough time.

Help on campus

For starters, you may seek individual or group therapy at the Carruth Center. The Carruth Center offers individual counseling, psychiatry, and a grief related support group. A counselor is available to speak to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 304-293-4431 if you are experiencing a psychological crisis. You can also use the Text Crisis Text Line. Text WVU to 741741 available 24/7 for free, confidential help.

Community resources

There are several community resources that provide hope for survivors of suicide. Messages for Hope is a local support group in Morgantown, WV for survivors of suicide. The group is held on the 4th Tuesday of every month at First Presbyterian Church at 456 Spruce Street, Morgantown, WV 26505. Contact Sandy Rose (304-276-6990) or Debbie Cardwell (304-389-8558) to join the group. The West Virginia Family Grief Center (WVFGC) also offers support groups on the 2nd and 4th Thursday’s of each month. Support groups are held at Morgantown Church of Christ at 361 Scott Avenue, Morgantown, WV 26508. The WVFGC also works with children and teens as they are going through the grief process. Contact them at 304-282-4935 to join a group.

Getting involved

You may also let your pain be a compass that leads you to new places. When you are ready, let you pain turn into compassion and participate in suicide prevention measures. Let your story be heard by advocating for suicide prevention. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention hosts Out of the Darkness Walks every fall across the United States to bring suicide survivors together to walk in the name of their loved one. 

Other resources

If you don’t find these resources helpful to you, try visiting this suicide resourced directory that lists several national resources that you may be able to utilize. The site shares personal stories, materials to read, and immediate crisis assistance at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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Chloe Smith

Chloe is a first-year student in the Master of Social Work program at West Virginia University. She is an advanced supervised trainee at the Carruth Center, where she provides individual counseling services to students. Chloe received her Bachelor of Social Work at West Virginia University as well. Outside of Carruth, she works with grieving children and their families at a local grief center.

 

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