A traumatic aftermath
Death by suicide is sudden, sometimes violent, and usually unexpected. Because it’s a sudden and unexplained death, official processes follow. Police are involved. An inquest must take place. Media may take an interest.
Discovering the person and witnessing the death scene is traumatic. Recurring thoughts can follow, even if you didn’t see the scene.This may be part of trying to understand what happened, or it may be because the thoughts simply won’t stop coming. Find more about coping with trauma here.
Some people experience flashbacks; sudden, powerful moments where you feel like you’re reliving your traumatic experience, or some aspect of it. They may involve thoughts, sounds, smells, tastes and/or sensations in your body. You can read more about flashbacks here.
- Self-blame. Feeling somehow responsible for the suicide, or wondering what you could have done to prevent it
- Rejection and abandonment. Feeling that the person who died has rejected or left you
- Anger. This may be directed at yourself, others, or the person who died
- Interrogating memories. You may look back at happy memories and wonder what you missed or if things really happened that way
- Questions like ‘why’ and ‘what could I have done differently’
- Experiencing strong feelings of wanting to ‘wind back time’ and do things differently to change the outcome. Feelings of regret and ‘what if…’.
You may experience a strong need to reason, question, or find meaning in the death. Thoughts such as ‘Why did this happen?’, ‘Why did I not see this coming?’, or ‘Why didn’t I do… (insert your thought here)’ may arise. This is a normal part of trying to make sense of events. Thoughts like this can happen after any type of death, but may be particularly intense and continue for a long time after a suicide death.
It’s okay to ask why the death happened, and this can help with understanding it. Unfortunately, due to the complexity of suicide, it may not be possible to find all the answers. Some people describe this experience as trying to put together a jigsaw with missing pieces.
Historically, suicidal behaviour has been seen as shameful and taboo in many cultures. These days, most people no longer view suicide as shameful or selfish. Rather, suicide is recognised as a complex issue that is no one's fault. However ideas and beliefs about suicide still persist and can cause damage. This can contribute to negative attitudes, including prejudice and discrimination, against people who are suicidal and sometimes their families as well. As a result, people bereaved by suicide may experience social stigma, which may take the form of blame, judgement or exclusion.
Social awkwardness related to stigma can happen when others avoid the word ‘suicide’ or find it hard to acknowledge what’s happened, and fail to offer support.
Internal stigma can occur when we take on, or internalise negative beliefs around suicide and apply them to ourselves. This can happen consciously or unconsciously and can create feelings of psychological distress, including shame, guilt, blame and avoidance. It can damage self-esteem, contribute to withdrawal and social isolation, and can stop people bereaved by suicide from asking for help.
Duration of grief
Compared to grief following other types of death, people grieving after a suicide may recover more slowly for the first two years afterwards.
In addition, official processes around suicide can take time and may add to and sometimes complicate grief. These processes may include interactions with Police, receiving a post mortem report, experiencing the coronial process and an inquest.
“Five-and-a-half years after losing our teenage daughter to an impulsive suicide I still find myself looking for logic in the illogical, rational in the irrational, sense in the nonsensical, and answers to the questions I can’t even see. The intense pain and the tears still come and go, although not as frequently, as we find ways of living without our daughter.”