Chapter 3: Challenges you may face

The search for meaning

The grief expert says
Alex shares a story about making meaning from suicide loss.(3:22)Video transcript
Alex speaks about how grief can be private at times.(3:22)Video transcript

It was his choice to end his life. I was angry at him. I thought, “How could you do that to your wife and kids?” But I also thought that it was not a rational act.

He knew two people who had died by suicide. Some of his friends thought that he was fixated on that. He seemed to have had a long-term plan.

She was just about to go on vacation. I thought, “How could she hide what was going on, what was the fuel, the impetus for her suicide? What was the last straw?” I never got those answers.

A death by suicide is usually shocking and hard to understand. This can add difficulties to your grieving as you struggle to “put the pieces together” or make sense of what has happened. You may be searching for ways to explain it to yourself or to others. See below for some examples of thoughts and questions you may have.

  • You may be examining your own life, perhaps questioning or re-evaluating its purpose.
  • You may have a sense of despair or lost meaning as you wonder where to go from here.
  • You may question how you currently see yourself and others.
  • You may feel that some of your beliefs or values have been shaken.
  • You may be looking for new ways of understanding the world.
  • You may believe that this death was without meaning.
  • You may notice that your identity has changed or shifted as you adopt new perspectives or roles, or as you give up old ones.
  • You may have a sense of personal growth, and/or gain a new perspective on what matters in your life. 

The ways you try to come to terms with this death may be unique to you. A search for meaning may or may not produce answers for you. Your experience is very personal and is deeply connected to the relationship you had with the person who died, as well as to your personality and life experience. It’s usually not possible to know ahead of time how you will be affected. Whether you find some meaning in this death or find a way to live with unanswered questions and a lack of meaning, your life has been changed. You may feel that you will never be the same again – and that is true.


What may help

  • Recognize that the need to understand or find meaning is part of being human.
  • Allow yourself to take the time you need to work on this “puzzle,” which is significant and profound.
  • Acknowledge that your search may not produce the results that you hoped for.
  • Changes following a death by suicide occur over a period of time. Some may happen immediately after the death, while others may occur much later.
  • Some changes can be profound and lead to unexpected insights or life changes, while other changes are subtler and less visible to the outside world.   
  • No one knows what changes you will – or “should” – experience. Finding ways to live with the person’s death is a very personal process.