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Losing Loved Ones

It’s hard enough to lose a loved one, but there is perhaps nothing more painful than to lose a loved one to suicide. Grief reactions to losing someone to suicide are similar to the emotions of any death; however, there are some additional components. The stigma of suicide is still very prominent and survivors may feel judged or shame. Most survivors will feel a great deal of stress, pain, anxiety and even symptoms of depression. With time, these feelings will become less intense.

Emotional Reactions

If you are a survivor of suicide, you may experience some of the following emotions:

Shock and Disbelief

Disbelief and emotional numbness might set in. It may be hard to comprehend what has happened and some survivors cope by staying in a fog of shock. Some feel completely numb, while others fall into a stage of denial.

Guilt and Self-Blame

It’s common to think about what could have been said or done. Often survivors repeat “what if” scenarios in their mind, blaming themselves for a loved one’s death. Also common are, “if only” scenarios, such as: “If I had only been there.” Some survivors direct blame toward the medical facilities, institutions or professionals that have been involved in their loved one’s treatment. Blame and anger are commonly misdirected.


Survivors may be overcome by sadness or feelings of helplessness. They may even consider suicide themselves. If you or another survivor is having thoughts of self harm, please seek professional treatment immediately.


Feelings of anger are oftentimes common due to unresolved emotions. Survivors may become angry when they consider their life without a loved one. They may feel anger toward the loved one who chose to take their own life. Anger can be directed internally or externally. Survivors may feel they missed important clues or they may think their loved one picked death over them.


Feelings of sadness are common when grieving a suicide. Survivors may be sad over the lost potential. They may consider the lost hopes and dreams... all the “could-have-beens”


Survivors may feel a sense of shame based on how their loved one passed. They may feel judged or they themselves may struggle with judging their loved one. Survivors are sometimes put in a situation where they feel the need to defend the honor of a loved one. Some people find it easier to deny the way their loved one died.

Rejection and Abandonment

Survivors sometimes feel rejection or abandonment. Some feel rejected by the idea that your relationship wasn’t enough to keep your loved one from dying by suicide.


If a loved one had a long history of mental health treatment, substance abuse issues or legal problems, a sense of relief may occur after a suicide. Survivors may feel relief over finally knowing the pain and suffering is over. Survivors, too, will feel free from the roller-coaster of events. Sometimes relief cycles back into feeling guilt for feeling relieved.

Nightmares and Flashbacks

Following a suicide, survivors may have nightmares and flashbacks for weeks, months or even years. This is common most often when a survivor had the painful experience of finding their loved one or witnessing their death. Over time, survivors learn about triggers and may be able to manage exposure to possible triggers of flashbacks and nightmares.

Loss of Interest in normal activities and social withdrawal

Often, life takes on a new meaning for survivors. They may not be up to seeing friends of feel a lack of interest in normal activities they once enjoyed. With time, most survivors are able to find sources of joy and meaning in their lives. Sometimes taking up a new hobby may provide enough distraction to get through rough days.

Why Question

Probably one of the most usual and persistent reactions is the need to know why the suicide occurred. Even in situations when a loved one has long term mental health needs, it’s still shocking when they take their life. It is impossible to prepare for the news of a suicide. Many survivors report thinking about their loved one’s last moments and what they could have done to save them. Survivors struggle with the “Why question,” sometimes for years, until they can find a way to let go of the need to figure out why. Survivors who reach a level of understanding can feel a sense of new normal and peace.

Finding Support

If you are a survivor of suicide, you may experience some of the following emotions:

Support Groups

Survivors of Suicide are groups for family and friends that have lost a loved one through suicide. These groups are led by peers and at times have a clinician associated with the group for extra support. Survivors should consider trying the group. Visitors can just attend and listen, they don’t have to talk. For many it helps to feel surrounded by others that understand. The following sites can help locate a support group near you:


Talking to a counselor with a specialty in grief counseling can assist you in working through some of the intense emotions you may be feeling. Some people prefer to work on their grief individually rather than in a support group environment. Counseling is a very intimate platform and may be a good fit for those who find it difficult to talk in a group setting.

Faith-based groups and community support

If you are spiritual or religious, you may find support in your community or with the leader of your church or temple. Oftentimes, religious leaders have ample experience with loss and can provide recommendations for prayer or meditation.

If you are struggling with prolonged, complicated grief, you should see a medical doctor or mental health professional.

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