The grief process following the death by suicide of a loved one can be profound, even traumatic. The reality of the complexities and difficulties associated with the grieving process following the death by suicide of a loved one extends to adults, young people, and children alike. When it comes to understanding the grief of children who lose a loved on by death by suicide, there are a number of key points to bear in mind. These include:
- Grief is an actual and appropriate reaction to death
- Grief is different for each individual child
- Grief does not follow a specific schedule
- Children have an innate ability to heal themselves
- Children move in and out of grief
- Grief issues unique to survivors of suicide loss
Grief Is an Actual and Appropriate Reaction To Death
When a child, adolescent, or young person experiences the death by suicide of a loved one, grief and the grieving process is very likely to be something “new” to that individual. Fortunately, children, adolescents, and young adults tend not to have a tremendous amount of experience with grief and grieving.
When a child, adolescent, or young person is a survivor of suicide loss, an important part of such a person’s grieving process is coming to a definitive understanding that grief is an actual and appropriate reaction to death, according to the Mayo Clinic. A younger person needs to recognize that there is nothing unnatural about the myriad of different emotions that arise in the aftermath of the death by suicide of a family member, friend, or some other person in the life of that youthful individual.
Grief Is Different for Each Individual Child
As is the case with adults, grief and grieving is a different and unique experience for each child. No two people, including no two children, grieve in exactly the same manner.
In her well-regarded, oft-followed text On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed what has become known as the five stages of grief. They are:
Because each person, each child, experiences a unique grieving process, an individual may experience these stages in a different order than traditionally set forth. In addition, it is a strong possibility that a person may go through a particular stage more than one time. Moreover, it is also possible that a grieving person might experience the elements of more than one stage of grief at the same time.
Grief Does Not Follow a Specific Schedule
As was alluded to a moment ago in the discussion of unique grieving processes, there is no specific schedule by which a person goes through the grieving process. Some people may go through a healthy grieving process in what many would consider a short period of time. On the other hand, there are individuals that experience grief processes that prove to be significantly longer. Because all people experience grief differently, the time of an individual’s grief process can be very different from one individual to the next.
There can reach a point at which the length of time a person has spent grieving may be a warning sign that something has gone awry in the grieving process itself. There may have been a shift away from healthy grieving.
If a person, including a child, appears to be frozen in grief or stuck in the grieving process, professional intervention and assistance may be warranted. There are grief therapists that specialize in working with young people experiencing problems addressing the death of a loved one (or someone else) who has died by suicide.
Children Have an Innate Ability To Heal Themselves
On the positive side of the proverbial equation, when it comes to suicide loss and grief, children have an innate ability to heal themselves. The fact is that a large percentage of children are far more resilient than their parents and others may initially give them credit.
If a child is in a loving environment when grieving the loss of a someone one in his or her life because of a death by suicide, he or she will be able to draw upon his or her innate strength and associated attributes while working through grief. In other words, a child has an innate foundation to heal and can realize a healthy grieving process in the aftermath of the death of a loved one by suicide.
Children Move In and Out of Grief
In part because of the state of a child’s mental and emotional development, a child will move in and out of grief and grieving. A child may appear to have worked through his or her own version of grieving and then, without any “warning,” be in the midst of grieving yet again. It is important to stress that this is a normal process for a child, adolescent, and, in some cases, even a young adult.
With that said, older individuals can also move in and out of grief. Older individuals tend to do this with less frequency. While grief is not linear, a healthy grieving process for an adult (and ultimately for a younger person) does reach a juncture where it concludes and doesn’t ebb in and back out.
Grief Issues Unique To Survivors of Suicide Loss
Survivors of suicide loss, including young people, face unique grief issues. Unique means that an issue more commonly is found among survivors of suicide loss. It can also mean that an issue is more intense with a survivor of suicide loss than someone else. These oftentimes include:
- Shock over the manner of a loved one’s death
- Anger over the manner or circumstances of a loved one’s death (including anger with oneself)
- Guilt about the suicide death loss
- Stigma associated with the death by suicide of a loved one
Understanding the grief process of a child, adolescent, or young person who lost a loved one because of a suicide death is crucial. Armed with this understanding, older individuals can prove to be far more supportive of younger people during such a challenging time.