It can be difficult to find the right words to say after someone has passed away. This may feel especially difficult when someone has died by suicide.
It’s okay not to know what to say – and it's okay to say just that. Saying something is better than silence.
It’s okay to acknowledge the death and say the name of the person who has died.
Be accepting of however the person who is grieving may like to express their feelings. It may be with sadness, silence or anger.
- let the person you’re supporting know that it's okay if they don’t want to talk about it. It's also okay if they don't want to talk about it. You’re here to listen whenever
- ask if you can make dinner, pick up groceries or run an errand for them
- be patient, don’t set a time limit on grief
- listen. Don’t try to fix things. The greatest thing you can give someone who has survived a suicide loss is your time, reassurance and love
- look after yourself when you're supporting someone else. This is especially important after someone has died of suicide. If anything you hear or see causes you distress, things feel overwhelming, or you'd just like someone to talk to, there are a number of resources and helplines that you can reach out to.
- suggest you know how they feel. We can never know just how someone else feels. We all go through difficult times in life. Yet despite our shared experiences, everyone goes through loss differently
- say that the person who died is “at peace now”. This can contribute to suicide risk for those who are vulnerable by implying death is an acceptable solution to pain
- tell the person what they should do or feel
- try and stop someone from sharing and repeating stories, conversations and events related to what’s happened. Repetition is key to recovering from grief
- tell them they should be over it by now. Grief happens in its own time
- blame others for the person’s death by suicide. Suicide is complex and never the result of one thing only.
- call the person who has died by suicide ‘selfish’ or try to place blame
- use the term ‘commit’ or ‘committed’ e.g., ‘he committed suicide’. The word ‘commit’ increases the stigma around suicide and is used to imply a crime. Suicide is not a crime
- If you’re online, never post anything before the family or whānau has a chance to post first, and don't make it about you.
It can be hard to know what to say or do for a friend or family member who has lost a loved one to suicide. Though you cannot make the pain go away, your support can make a big difference. People who are bereaved by suicide often report receiving less support than people who are bereaved by other means - this is because of the stigma around suicide. People may also find it hard to talk about suicide and avoid the topic altogether. This can increase the isolation that comes with grief.
It can also be very hard for a bereaved person to explain how they’re feeling and ask for help, particularly after a death by suicide, when events may be particularly complicated and hard to explain. They may tell you they’re fine, when actually they’re not.
Be proactive and gently offer your support, don't wait to be asked.
- Listen in a non-judgemental way without trying to problem-solve. They may repeat their story many times - it’s part of coming to terms with what’s happened. Having the courage to sit in that space with them and just listen is a gift
- Often, finding the right words is less important than letting your friend or family member express their feelings and share their loss. People may avoid talking about suicide or their loss, thinking they’re being helpful. However those who are bereaved often need to feel that others are willing to acknowledge their loss
- While you should never expect someone to talk if they’re not ready, being able to have a kōrero/conversation when they’re ready is important
- Offer comfort without minimising the loss. Let your friend or family member know that whatever they’re feeling is okay. Don't give unsolicited advice, claim to know what the person is feeling or compare your grief to theirs
- If there are children or young people in the whānau, acknowledge they have lost someone they care about
- Remember grief has no time limits and is not an illness. It’s not about ‘getting better’ by a certain date. Rather, it’s about learning how to live with loss
- Sympathy cards can be used to share remembrance stories. Find a card with lots of blank space inside and write a personal story or memory of the person you’d like to share. It’s healing to write a precious memory down and the bereaved family may appreciate receiving these.
Immediate practical support
- Offer your support for anything they might need help with. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to simply let someone know you are there for them when they need you
- Offer to notify people of the death
- Help with tangihanga/funeral preparation
- Help with tasks and chores, e.g. do the grocery shopping or gardening, look after the kids, walk the dog, be a driver - whatever is relevant for the person you’re supporting
- Provide a pre-cooked meal.
- Be there for the long term. A person learns to live with their loss - it never really goes away. Saying the name of the person who died, and sharing stories and memories may become more precious and meaningful as time goes on
- Be aware of and acknowledge special times that may be significant and particularly difficult, such as Christmas, anniversaries and birthdays
- Nurture relationships. If possible, stay in touch regularly
- Even if you haven't seen the person for a long time and it feels awkward when you see them again, it’s okay to let them know you’re thinking of them and mention the person who has died.
- See Victim Support for more tips on helping others.