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Content warning: In this post, the experience of losing a loved one to suicide is discussed. We understand that this may be a very sensitive topic for those who have experienced suicide loss. Please check in with yourself mentally and emotionally before you continue reading.

Suicide, tragically, leaves behind one of the most profound, visceral experiences of grief and loss one can go through. There are unanswered questions, shock and disbelief, and in many cases, suicide causes those left behind to experience the incredible weight of feeling guilty thinking that they could’ve, or should’ve, stopped it or seen it coming.

The reality is that suicide loss will touch nearly everyone in some way during their lifetime. If you talk to enough of your family and friends, you will find someone you know, even indirectly, who has died by suicide. There are few who this tragedy does not touch throughout their lives. Those who are in the inner circle, close friends, family, partners, are often forever changed by experiencing suicide loss, and life never returns to how it was before. Many get involved with suicide advocacy in some form after the loss, and most, if not all, spend the remainder of their lives with a space in their heart that cannot be filled.

If you are a loved one who has experienced suicide loss, there are so many emotions you shift through as you mourn and grieve, some of which may never completely fade as the years pass. Sadness, anger, and shock are some of the more obvious emotions that we experience when grieving. But a very common experience, and one we want to talk about with you, is feeling guilt. As we mentioned above, the guilt that can be left behind with the survivors of a suicide loss is tremendous. This is often called survivor’s guilt, and it can encompass a couple of different mindsets:

  1. The loved one left behind often feels they could’ve done something different and could’ve stopped the tragedy, or should’ve noticed something about the victim, something they said or did, that gave them an indication the suicide was about to happen and they should’ve or could’ve prevented it. This type of guilt makes the grieving process so much more difficult and adds so many more layers to it, layers that often prevent the loved one’s ability to ever find any semblance of healing from the loss. If this feels familiar to you, we encourage you to practice compassion with yourself and to offer yourself the kind of words and understanding you would offer anyone else who has experienced a tragic loss. The truth is, many suicides that are completed unfortunately happen with no warning signs, as one of the most common symptoms of depression is feeling like a burden, and often the person suffering doesn’t indicate to anyone that anything is wrong as a means of avoiding being the burden they feel like they are. While it’s true that moving through these feelings of guilt is a process that takes time, holding onto it doesn’t serve you and your healing and we want to invite you to treat yourself gently at this time and with kindness.
  3. At other times, survivor’s guilt can look like loved ones finding themselves feeling like it should’ve been them to leave this world, rather than the victim. Maybe focusing on how much potential they felt the victim had and feeling it was more than their own, maybe a parent mourning the loss of the years of life their child was supposed to experience long after they were gone, maybe the victim was a parent and a loved one who is not a parent finds themselves feeling guilty for being alive when these children have lost a father or mother. Regardless of the circumstances, many loss survivors go through a period of feeling guilty they are still here when the victim is not. This can be such a difficult, confusing thing to experience. Focusing on the reasons you are here can be helpful in finding your way through this period of grieving. Try even going so far as to make a list of the reasons why you’re here, the things, people, and experiences that bring you fulfillment and purpose, and keep that list accessible to you so you can read through it when you need to. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to go through the mourning process, even if that includes guilt, but be proactive by having this list available to help challenge those difficult thoughts.

Whether you are finding yourself experiencing guilt or one or more of the other emotions that come along with the grieving process, we gently encourage you to seek out a professional to help you work through this process. Mourning the loss of a life to suicide often leaves those left behind feeling so incredibly hopeless that they experience severe depression of their own as a result of the loss. Working with a therapist can help you navigate this difficult time in a safe way that ensures you process through the grief with as much support as possible and without hurting yourself. If you’re unsure where to even begin with finding a therapist, take a look at our Mental Health Resources for help on where you can find therapists near you (or even online therapy!), or ask a friend for some support with finding someone and making an appointment. If finances are a concern, know that many therapists offer sliding scales to make their services accessible to everyone, and some state services can even be accessed for free.

If you are a suicide loss survivor, please know you are not alone in your pain and grief. One of the most important things you can do is surround yourself with support, from friends and family to a therapist to support groups, which there are many of available. Here are a few resources that can be used to guide you to support groups, community forms, hotlines, and more:

  • Alliance of Hope: Alliance of Hope is a community dedicated to the journey that takes place after a loss to suicide, including the path of grief, emotional challenges, and need to honor and remember. Alliance of Hope provides a community forum, support groups, and more.
  • AFSP I’ve Lost Someone: American Foundation of Suicide Prevention’s I’ve Lost Someone is available and provides resources for those who have lost a loved one to suicide and is seeking support. This includes information on International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day as well as a list of support groups available to provide help.
  • American Association of Suicidology Suicide Loss Survivors: This section of the AAS website includes suggestions for survivors as well as a pocket-sized, downloadable handbook for survivors, written by fellow survivor Jeffrey Jackson.
  • Friends for Survival: Friends for Survival offers a toll free suicide loss helpline at (800) 646-7322 and additional resources for those who are grieving after a suicide death, including clinicians and professionals.

Suicide loss is so devastating to those left behind, and our hearts and thoughts are with anyone who has experienced it, whether recent or years ago. Often the wounds stay fresh, year after year, as we remember our loved one and live out our days without them. If you are struggling with suicide loss, please reach out to a professional or a support group for help. There are people whose mission is to support you through this time, with love, understanding, and tools to offer to help you. Be compassionate with yourself and practice self-care as you learn this new way of life without someone you love, and know that you are not alone.