When someone loses his or her spouse to suicide, the resulting heartache is severe, anguished and complicated. It is difficult to know how to offer solace to a grieving loved one in this situation, because no simple solutions exist. In an interview about "Grief After Suicide," PsychCentral contributor Dr. Jack Gordon notes that "suicide survivors" often choose to deal with their heartaches in private because the topic of suicide is still "taboo" in society.Your willingness to offer comfort in these situations is particularly important.
Those bereaved by suicide often receive less support than those bereaved through other causes of death, and the most important thing you can do, when comforting a person who has lost a spouse to suicide, is simply to "be there," according to the Harvard Health publication, "Left Behind After Suicide" Let the person know you are available to talk at any time. Provide your phone number or email. Invite the bereaved to dinner or a walk in the park. Send a note saying, "I'm here for you," or "Thinking of you today." These simple and consistent acts of kindness mean a great deal to those in emotional turmoil. As you offer comfort, remember the most important element is your compassionate presence.
Grieving After Suicide Is Particularly Difficult
Losing a loved one is always difficult. However, the natural process of grieving is deeply complicated when one loses a spouse to suicide. Consider that suicides are often unexpected and violent. Surviving spouses often replay the scene of death repeatedly in their minds, as described in “Left Behind After Suicide.” In fact, some survivors develop PTSD -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- due to the trauma of dealing with the aftermath of a violent suicide. As you support the surviving spouse, it's important to recognize that the grieving process will be complicated, difficult, and long.
Make Room for Guilt, Anger and Shame
Strong feelings of guilt, anger, and shame are normal responses to suicide and the intensity of such feelings are often "well beyond the limits experienced in other types of deaths," notes Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt's online article entitled, "Helping a Survivor Heal.” Make room for the expression of these emotions. Don't try to side step them or sweep them under the proverbial rug. In order to provide true comfort, listen without judgment to the honest, raw, and difficult emotions that normally arise in this situation. Wolfelt advices you to focus on listening. "You don't have to have the answer," he writes. Simply listening is enough.
What Not to Say
Your compassionate presence is vital. However, as you offer comfort to the bereaved, there are certain things you simply shouldn't say. Avoid cliches and catch all phrases like, "It was God's will," or "Everything happens for a reason." Be sure not to tell the surviving spouse that "You'll get over this soon" or "Don't feel that way." While it's true that focusing on positive emotions can aid the grieving process, this shift in perspective must come from the grieving party. Your role is to listen and offer loving comfort. "Tell me more," is always a good phrase to say when encountering difficult emotion.
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- No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving The Suicide Of A Loved One; Carla Fine
Amy Wright Glenn holds a Master of Arts in religion and education from Teachers College at Columbia University. Glenn taught in the religion and philosophy department at The Lawrenceville School for over a decade. She is a birth doula, hospital chaplai, and author of "Birth, Breath, and Death: Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula."