It was heartbreaking to learn that Kristoff St. John had died and that his son had died by suicide four years earlier. His friend and co-worker Eric Braeden, was quoted as saying,” I think we all sort of tiptoed around what obviously weighed most heavily on his heart and his soul – and that is the death of his son.” Braeden went on to say, “How do you discuss something so fundamentally tragic as that with even a friend? You don’t want to touch that wound.”
Postvention – the word used to describe the support needed for people after they’ve been impacted by a suicide loss – is of critical importance but is often overlooked. Even the most patient, humble, and empathetic person can be at a loss for words.
What You May Not Know About Suicide Loss Survivors
Many people impacted by a suicide loss, called suicide loss survivors, may be far more confused, sad, and lost than you can imagine.
Loss survivors often don’t know what they need and are at a loss on how to respond when you ask them what they need.
Loss survivors often worry about being a burden to others. This feeling is more common after a few months and especially after a year or more has passed.
There are no such things as “stages” of grief let alone closure or acceptance. In time loss survivors learn to integrate their loss into their new reality.
Most loss survivors benefit greatly from interacting with fellow loss survivors. There’s an indescribable bond that exists as we find one another but this by no means discounts the importance of your support.
Feelings of guilt, responsibility, or shame are not part of every suicide loss survivors experience.
Supporting a Suicide Loss Survivor
Let me be clear: It can be awkward interacting with a someone grieving a suicide loss. Are you fearful of saying the wrong thing? You’re in good company! Here are some suggestions:
- Saying, “you know you can call me if you need anything,” is fine but not if it’s the only thing you say. Initiate. “I was going to come over and mow your grass this Saturday, is that a good day for you?”
- Listen, listen, listen. Even if your friend is sharing the same memories over and over.
- Say their loved one’s name.
- Share memories of their loved one even in – especially in – the years to come.
- Try to match the emotional tone your friend is setting. It’s okay to shed tears and it’s okay to laugh. Take their lead.
- Admit you are fearful of saying the “wrong thing” and give your friend permission to tell you if you say something they perceive as insensitive.
- Be patient
- Don’t say, “I know” or “I understand” even if you are a survivor of a trauma or suicide loss. Grief is unique – this person’s relationship with their loved one was unique.
- Try not to say “committed suicide.” Rather say, “died by suicide.”
- Don’t ask detailed questions about why, how, or if there was a note. Rather, listen without judgement if your friend volunteers this information.
- Do not share personal information your friend has shared with you. Grief is intimate and being invited into someone’s grief journey is an honor.
If you want support as you try to support someone who’s struggling with a suicide loss, please contact loss at 614-530-8064 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for being part of the community of hope.
Denise Meine-Graham, CT: Loss Survivor and Founding Director of Franklin County Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors
If you or someone you care about are struggling with suicidal thoughts please get help. 911 | 1-800-273-8255 | text “4hope” to 741741