Looking after yourself is important. Some New Zealanders bereaved by suicide suggest these ways to care for yourself:
- stay connected with other people: talk, listen, share memories with others, and spend time with family, whānau and friends
- take time for yourself when you need it, and take care of your health – eat well, do some gentle exercise like walking or dancing, try to get enough sleep and avoid drugs and alcohol
- do things that you find comforting. Slow down, relax your body, breathe deeply, listen to music, read helpful books, take a long bath, hug, hold someone’s hand, or have a massage
- let yourself express your emotions: cry, scream into the wind, hit a pillow, joke and laugh when you can
- remember the person you’ve lost ‒ talk or write about them, share memories and photos
- try to do the things you enjoy, even if you don’t feel like it at the time. Encourage yourself. Routines can help
- get outside often: visit nature – the sea, beach, forest, bush or hills
- pray or meditate
- keep a journal or diary, or write a letter that you never have to send and include everything you want to say
- use support that is offered – let others give you a hand and ask for what you need
- join a support group or talk to others who have “been there”
- find someone to talk to and to listen. A relative, friend, or someone completely anonymous such as a Lifeline, Youthline or Samaritans phone counsellor can help
“I went to a local gym with a friend and they got me doing all kinds of exercises. I sweated and pushed myself, and somehow it helped me sweat out all this anger and emotion inside.”
“This was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. And I had others to look after as well. My sister made me realise I needed to look after myself first or I couldn’t handle all the things I’d have to do.”
Keeping energy up
Grieving takes a great deal of energy. Many people find it draining. Life can get especially difficult if you are unable to sleep or eat well. If you are becoming exhausted, ask for help from your family or friends and consider talking to your doctor or nurse about your health.
Some people can find themselves reliving what has happened over and over again. If flashbacks or nightmares continue and are affecting your daily life, get advice from your doctor or a counsellor.
Holding on to good memories
Many people find it helpful to find ways to remember the person who has died, and to celebrate their life, e.g. by making a memory scrapbook or box, a photo board, planting a tree or doing something special in their memory. While memories can be painful at first, they can become very important and a source of comfort.
Talking to a health professional
Remember that it is normal to feel a range of emotions when you first lose someone. However, if you do not start to feel better after a while, or you don’t feel as though you can handle things on your own, you should consider speaking to your doctor or a counsellor.
Talking to someone can help you sort out your thoughts and feelings, and help to put things in perspective. Your doctor can help by recommending grief counsellors and therapists to help you work through how to come to terms with your loss.
Some people put off asking for help for many reasons, but later wish they had asked sooner. Suicide grief is very difficult for anyone. Using the help available can make a positive difference to how you and others come through this time.
Some people don’t feel comfortable in groups, or don’t want to connect with others bereaved by suicide. Others find significant value in joining groups to share common hurts, experiences and emotions. Suicide loss support groups can provide a safe environment for sharing stories of the person you have lost. They also encourage people more recently bereaved to see that their grief can become more manageable over time and suggest strategies to help.
The WAVES programme is another type of group support. It is an eight week grief education programme developed in New Zealand for adults bereaved by suicide. Its purpose is to help people learn more about grief and suicide, find meaning in their experiences, learn to manage emotions, reduce stigma and feelings of isolation, and move towards recovery and adjustment after a suicide loss. The focus of WAVES is growing through grief. WAVES programmes run at different times across Aotearoa New Zealand. For a list of current WAVES groups, see Skylight’s website.
Suicide brings tremendous distress and sadness. It is normal to continue to experience times of grief, even years later. Your loss will always be a part of your life, but you will adjust to it gradually and find ways your life will grow around it.
“The best thing anyone ever said to me was simple. They said, ‘You will get through this.’ And I have. I didn’t think I would, but I have. They were right.”