Relating and responding to others

Relationships can become strained when people are under enormous stress caused by a suicide and deal with things in different ways.

Some people talk a lot about their thoughts or feelings while others would rather have time alone. Without meaning to, some people can hurt others with their words and actions.

Such differences can be misunderstood, so be as patient and tolerant as you can, and let others grieve in their own way. Everyone may say or do thoughtless things at times. If any relationships become especially difficult, you could ask someone to help you to talk together, to better understand each other.

“Some people even found the word ‘suicide’ hard to say. I’d just tell them it was okay to be honest about it and that I needed to talk about it.”

“When we judge each other’s grief, we can push away from each other. Understanding, patience and communication help relationships to keep working through a crisis.”

People usually want to give support and comfort but may not know how. They may not want to upset you or to intrude. They may also be feeling anxious about managing their own grief.

As you meet people it may help to say something first, even if it is “I don’t really know what to say”. Breaking the ice is hard, but it helps.

“I went back to work to normalise things but it felt like I was being avoided by my colleagues. It wasn’t until one of them came up and said ‘I don’t know what to say to you’, that I realised they avoided me because they just didn’t know what to say. It was such a relief. It was the most helpful thing anyone had said to me.”

Your friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues and acquaintances are all important. When you are ready to, connect with them. They can play a part in supporting you. People often say they appreciate being told honestly how best to help.

“I didn’t want to be a burden, but I realised that if it was me, then I’d also want to be helping when my friend’s life was so painful for her and her family.”

It can be difficult to know how to respond to the question, “How are you?,” especially when it may be asked repeatedly in the days and weeks after a death. Sometimes this question can be asked in a very genuine way, other times it may feel as though the person asking is simply being polite and is not ready to hear your answer. One bereaved person suggested the following response:

“When someone asks, ‘How are you?,’ you can respond, ‘As expected’. This answer takes the pressure off you, and allows the other person to either follow up if they are genuinely concerned, or leave it at that.”

If people give you unwanted comments or advice, ignore it. You could have a response ready such as:

  • I don’t agree with that – that’s just your opinion

  • tell them why their words hurt you or make you angry

  • change the subject or walk away

  • I don’t want to talk about it, thanks.

If you’re not ready to socialise, it’s okay to say no to invitations. Suggest people ask you another time, which helps them to continue to include you and to feel it’s alright to ask again later.

“When people ask how I am, I give them a score out of ten as an indication. That helps.”

“People always ask how it is I’m always cheerful. I answer, ‘I don’t go out when I’m feeling flat.’ Even after eight years I can still have those days.”