Chapter 2: A different kind of loss
Impact on thoughts and feelings
If only I had known this was coming, I could have done something different.
It’s okay to be angry, confused, to not know all the answers.
When my brother died, finally there was this nothingness in my chest. The constant feeling of chaos and the expectation and fear of the worst thing that could happen was gone.
Grief can impact your thoughts and emotions. After a death by suicide, your grief and your experience may seem different than what you have experienced with other or past losses. Your grief may be lengthier and more complex, with intense feelings or painful thoughts. You may wonder why the person chose to end their life. You may blame yourself or feel some level of guilt for the death and be left with many unanswered questions. You may feel confused or ashamed because of a sense of relief or anger toward the person who died.
There is sometimes stigma attached to suicide, and you may struggle with beliefs and opinions that you or others have about both the act and the person who died. The public nature of suicide, with the involvement of first responders, media, and investigators, can also feel very invasive.
You may find it challenging to talk about certain feelings, such as regret, anger, shame, or fear. It’s important to know that your feelings are normal. Below are some common thoughts and feelings, drawn from the experiences of people who’ve grieved a death by suicide. Click the arrows to view these.
The first thing you may experience is shock or disbelief. You may feel numb or without feeling.
Although this numbness is frightening, it often helps you to continue functioning during periods of high stress.
- Feel responsible and blame yourself for the death.
- Replay events that led up to the death (perhaps now with a different lens or perspective on what occurred).
- Recall past disagreements or conflicts, unfulfilled plans, unreturned messages, words said or unsaid.
- Believe that you knew or should have known the person better.
- Think that you let the person down – that you were unhelpful, inadequate, or “not enough” in some way.
- Feel guilty, as time goes by, after moments of happiness.
Losing someone suddenly or violently leaves a lot of room for anger and rage. Some examples are:
- You might be angry with a person who you feel let the person who died down; an establishment (such as a hospital); friends and family; a higher power; or even yourself.
- You might feel angry at the person who died if you believe that they should have reached out more or done a better job of caring for themselves. You might feel angry because they have abandoned you, or for the pain their death has caused.
- Your anger or rage might feel more free-floating, without a specific target.
When a death is sudden and unexpected, your sense of anxiety may be heightened and cause you to fear for the safety of others. After someone’s death by suicide, you might be more easily startled. You might feel scared when other family members don’t stay in contact; or you might worry about them being at risk of suicide. Given that you have experienced a situation in which you felt powerless and without control, it makes sense that your fears might continue or return for some time.
The person who died may have mattered a great deal to you. For example, you might have looked up to them if they were a parent or you might have counted on them and trusted them if they were your spouse. They might have cared for you or provided for you. In these circumstances, you might feel rejected by them or abandoned. You might experience thoughts of not being good enough. Regardless of your age, feeling rejected or abandoned is painful.
There can be a lot of judgment when it comes to suicide. Questions by others (such as, “Didn’t you know?”) can be painful beyond measure and contribute to a sense of shame. There is also judgment in society because of ongoing stigma about suicide. Beliefs that place blame, for instance, can be deeply hurtful. As a result, you may avoid talking about your experience.
Perhaps you feel that a hard chapter of your life has finally passed. This can be especially true if you’ve been supporting someone struggling with mental illness or addictions for some time. Their death may have brought you a sense of peace or relief.
There may be times when you feel nothing at all and others when you feel overwhelmed by having many feelings all at once. You may feel disturbed if your feelings seem contradictory – for example, if you feel both sad and angry, or both relieved and guilty. Some people have described this as an “emotional storm,” which can leave you feeling a loss of control.
What may help
- Remember that your thoughts and feelings are part of a normal response to this death. If they seem different or disturbing, remind yourself that grief after a death by suicide is unlike the grief you may have felt after other losses.
- Acknowledge that your grieving will likely take longer than you (or others) might expect. Try to be patient and allow yourself to take the time needed to come to terms with what has happened.
- Reach out for support from people who can listen to you without judgment. These could be friends, family, or a bereavement support groups for those grieving a death by suicide.
- If you continue to struggle with feeling overwhelmed by difficult thoughts and feelings, or if you feel “stuck” in your grief, seek help from a professional with training in grief and suicide loss.