Who are suicide survivors?
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.
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.
How to get help
Help on campus
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.
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).
- 5 Things Suicide Loss Survivors Should Know — from Someone Who’s Attempted
- Loss Survivors
- Suicide Grief: Healing After a Loved One's Suicide
- Guilt After Suicide
- Why It's Impossible to Understand Their Why
- Suicide Prevention Provides Hope
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.