Being bereaved by suicide has been described as grief with the volume up.

Grief is a normal human response after a loss. It helps us to adjust to what has happened, but it’s also one of life’s most challenging experiences, and it can often feel isolating and intense. 

It’s painful whenever someone we care about dies, regardless of how a person died or whether there was any warning. However, the grief that follows losing a loved one to suicide can be particularly challenging. It’s normal to feel all kinds of emotions after a suicide, including shock, numbness, fear or anger. Some people who have experienced losing someone to suicide said:

“My body shook for days and I could hardly sleep. I couldn’t remember things I’d just been told and had so many emotions coming at me all at once.”

“I just could not stop crying. Every part of me hurt.”

“I had no emotions for a long time. I couldn’t even cry when I tried to.”

“I felt like an empty shell when I returned to work. On the outside I looked normal, but on the inside I was hurting and confused. I was still in shock. I was there, but I wasn’t there.’

Many people mistakenly think of grief as just emotional pain. However, grief affects every part of us – our thoughts, feelings, body, spirit and relationships with others.

You may feel you will never recover from the loss, and even feel you don’t know how to carry on. Coming to terms with what has happened will take time.

“Months after her death I was in a shop and saw something she’d love. I found myself starting to cry, and then I was really sobbing. I had to leave the shop and get outside.”

What does grief look like?

Grief can show up in many different ways. Individual experiences of grief are shaped by culture, gender, age and your relationship to the person who has died. It’s important to remember that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to grieve, and that it’s okay to grieve in whatever way works for you. This is part of the healing process. 

Some common reactions of grief to suicide include:

  • intense shock, including feeling faint or shaky
  • numbness or disbelief
  • yearning for the person who has died
  • reliving the details of the death
  • not being able to sleep, or having nightmares or dreams about the suicide
  • a fear of being alone, or of others dying ‒ and wanting to be around friends or whānau a lot
  • feeling betrayed, rejected or powerless
  • feeling shame, whakamā, guilt or blaming yourself
  • anger, or blaming others for the loss
  • not wanting to talk, or wanting to be alone
  • forgetting things, or finding it hard to concentrate
  • sadness, emptiness: crying a lot, or not being able to cry
  • wanting to know the meaning of, and reason for, the suicide
  • thinking about suicide a lot, and having thoughts of suicide
  • sensing the person’s presence, or hearing their voice
  • feelings of relief ‒ this is often the case if the person who died by suicide had threatened or attempted suicide a lot before they died
  • physical reactions like pain, exhaustion, headaches and nausea.

Grief can also affect any health conditions you have, such as asthma or heart problems. Keep an eye on these and use medication or get medical help as necessary.