Grief is a universal experience. It is a human response to the loss of someone we love and value. However, it can also be a very difficult experience.
It can be helpful to recognise that grief is a process and that each person experiences grief in a unique way. The following factors may influence how grief is experienced:
The experience of grief can sometimes be very intense. Some people feel they are ‘going mad’ as grief affects the whole of our being and can leave us feeling out of control and overwhelmed. We need to give ourselves and others permission to grieve and be patient when the process seems to be taking what we consider to be a long time.
Grief is expressed in many ways and there is no specific timeline for the experience. Most people become aware that life will never be the same as it was and in time learn to integrate the reality of the loss into their lives. Eventually, the loved one who died can become part of life in a new way.
Over time the pain should get less. Most people start to recognise they are having more frequent and longer times when they feel more energy and hope. They may notice their memories are not as painful for as long, although this pain may never go away altogether.
Seeking out professional assistance can be helpful for some people.
Isolation, social withdrawal, intolerance of others, irritability, loss of interest in others, tearfulness, restlessness.
Confusion, forgetfulness, racing mind, poor concentration, difficulty in making decisions, a sense of unreality, repeated disturbing imagery.
Shock, disbelief, sadness, distress, numbness, anxiety, guilt, fear, anger, helplessness.
Change in appetite, change in sleeping, tiredness, headaches, colds.
Loss of meaning, loss of direction, questioning faith/beliefs, searching for understanding.
Grief in response to a suicide can be particularly intense and difficult. It can raise many questions for family and friends of the person who died.
Some of the experiences of grief and bereavement following suicide might include:
Some people find it difficult to tell others that it was suicide and choose not to do so. Initially this may feel easier. However, it may result in experiencing a sense of unease and distance in your relationships with others. This may lead to a lack of support and a sense of isolation. Being as open and honest as possible is recommended.
It is important not to expect too much of yourself in the early stages. For a while you may not have the energy or motivation to live your life in the same way as before. Remind yourself that you are reacting to a devastating blow.
Many people who are bereaved by suicide have feelings of guilt and regret. They may feel they should have seen the suicide coming. ‘If only …” or ‘I wish …’ are common thoughts. Parents may feel there was something wrong with their parenting. Brothers, sisters and partners may feel responsible particularly when there has been family stress or conflict. It is important for bereaved people to remember that they acted with the information they had at the time. With hindsight it is often easy to see signs of the person’s distress and to criticise what was or was not done.
Some may feel there were many things they would have liked to have said to the person but were unable to because of the suddenness of the death. They may yearn to tell them they were loved, or to settle misunderstandings. It is common to feel sadness about the unfinished, unlived life, but it may help to recognise the person’s contributions and influences during their life and to remember the time spent together.
Some people find it helpful to acknowledge that their lives will never be the same again. It has been described this way: “You will never be the same again, you will never get over it, but you will have a life again, you will wake up in the morning and feel good. You will start to make plans for the future. At some point, life will feel normal again; not the old normal, the new normal.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Some people will not be able to handle your grief, so find those who can. Seek out an understanding friend, family member or support group. Some bereaved people suggest it is best to do this sooner rather than later as it can make a real difference to you and your family and friends.
For a few people there may be an experience of relief, particularly if there has been a long period of difficulty leading up to the death.
In a family, it is important to communicate with one another while at the same time having respect for each other’s way of handling the experience.