One of the most tragic and emotionally challenging occurrences during a lifetime is the death of a family member by suicide. Sadly, a considerable percentage of people in the United States and other countries worldwide are impacted by this virtually incomprehensible loss. If you have recently lost a family member as the result of death by suicide, the level of grief you are experiencing is likely to be so intense that it is hard to define.
As a consequence of your grief, you may sincerely desire to do whatever you possibly can to assist your family members in “dealing with their loss.” You very well may see yourself as needing to fill the role of a grief warrior to protect your other family members from the pain arising from the recent death of one of your own. Taking one such a role would be a tremendous burden.
You do not need to be the grief warrior for your family or other loved ones following the loss of a family member as the result of a suicide death. This article provides some specific thoughts about why it is not your responsibility to guide others through a grief process. While you should be loving, supportive, understanding and kind, you cannot assume the role of grief warrior in hopes of somehow taking those you love through some sort of imaginary grief and mourning process that is swift, neat, and minimizes pain.
Five Stages of Grief
Throughout this article, mention is made of the five stages of grief. The five stages of grief have proven to be valuable in understanding what occurs during the process of grieving the loss of a loved one, including a family member who has died as a result of suicide. The five stages of grief are:
Encourage Professional Support and Assistance
In many instances, survivors of suicide loss struggle (and sometimes mightily so) to work through the grief process. The grief process essentially stalls because suicide loss survivors find themselves mired in shame, depression, or both. These types of (understandable) emotional responses must be addressed for a person to engage in a healthy grieving process.
An important step you should consider when dealing with your loss and grief but want to be appropriately supportive of other family members is to encourage professional support and assistance. You should also consider professional therapeutic support and help if you feel you are not progressing through a productive grief process.
Note that the phrase “through a productive grief process” has been used in this discussion. We often hear something different, like “move forward through a productive grief process.” Words like “forward” leave a person believing that the grief process is linear. While the five stages of grief often are mentioned, they do not occur in a linear progression. Moreover, an individual grieving the loss of a loved one or family as a result of a suicide death may experience one or another stage more than once.)
In this day and age, there are an ever-increasing number of grief counselors and grief therapists providing support to individuals who have lost a loved one. There are also grief counselor and grief therapists that focus their practices on working with people who have lost loved ones as the result of a suicide death.
Support Groups for Survivors of Suicide Loss
A notable number of people balk at the thought of working with a counselor or a therapist. This is the case even when they concede they are having challenges getting through the challenging and even overwhelming emotions associated with the death of a family member or other loved one as the result of suicide.
Because a member of your own family is reluctant or outright refuses to seek professional support and assistance does not mean that you should become a grief warrior and assume responsibility for them. You cannot.
Again, you can be supportive. You can be kind. You can listen. But you are not in a position to be a grief warrior who has the solutions and answers for a fellow family member in the aftermath of the loss of one of your own by suicide.
There are a growing number of support groups for survivors of the death of a family member or other loved one by suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention maintains a comprehensive directory of survivors of suicide loss support groups across the country. This can be an invaluable resource to you and to other members of your family as you face the aftermath of the suicide death of a relative (or other loved one).
Practice Self-Care … For You and Your Family Member
Finally, in order to avoid becoming a proverbial grief warrior when it comes to the needs of another family member when a loved one has died by suicide, remember the importance of practice self-care. You need to honor your own needs when it comes to self-care. At the same time, you can also encourage your grieving family member to engage in self-care as well.
Practicing self-care need not be anything complicated, overly time consuming, or expensive. For example, some basic and yet effective self-care activities include:
- Listing to music
- Watching a favorite movie
- Eating a meal you particular enjoy
- Taking a bath
- Taking a day trip
- Having a staycation
- Taking a long walk
In reality, this list of what can qualify as self-care is virtually endless. An appropriate and meaningful way you can support a fellow family member following the death by suicide of one of your own is making suggestions to that person of possible self-care options.
By working on your grief and not trying to manage that of another after the suicide death of a family member, you truly do help your self and leave the door open to providing suitable support to those around you who are experiencing the pain that follows this type of loss. You set the stage for healing in your family without becoming a grief warrior.