Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion to death.
– Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Kubler-Ross’ reflection about guilt and death is magnified when a loved one dies by suicide. The reality is that when survivors of a suicide death or a loved one are asked about the range of emotions they are experiencing or have experienced, guilt is nearly always mentioned.
There are some tactics to consider as part of your grieving process and as a means to address guilt that may case a shadow over your ability to address your grief. For some people, professional assistance in addressing suicide-related grief is necessary. These and other matters are discussed in greater detail in this article.
How to Address Feelings of Guilt After the Suicide Death of a Loved One
Overcoming or dealing with guilt arising from the suicide death of a family member or friend can be accomplished by employing a three-part strategy, according to Gary Roe writing in his book Aftermath: Picking Up the Pieces After a Suicide.
The first part of the strategy is to notice the guilt. Acknowledge the fact that you are feeling guilty about the loss of a loved one through a suicide death. Roe even suggests saying it out loud or writing it down – “I feel guilty.”
Second, identify why you feel guilty or what exactly you feel guilty about. Try to be as specific as possible. For example, “I feel guilty because I did recognize what my loved one was going through in regard to his divorce.” Once again, Roe suggests saying it out loud or writing it down.
Third, and this is the most challenging part in nearly all cases – strive to release the guilt. Roe even suggests doing something physical as a manifestation of your release of guilt you are experiencing because of the suicide of a loved one. For example, if you’ve written about this guilt – as Roe suggests you do – tear up what you’ve written.
Roe has christened this strategy AIR. AIR stands for:
Guilt Is a Prime Enemy of Healthy Grieving
Speaking as we did of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, she created the well-known and often-used Five Stages of Grief:
Guilt is not listed among them.
Nonetheless, guilt is capable of derailing the grieving process after a loved one has died by suicide. Shame can have the same effect (and is the subject of a discussion itself for another day.)
While Roe has presented us with AIR, which sounds simple enough, for many individuals grieving a suicide death, relinquishing guilt requires more than this strategy. The AIR strategy can serve as a useful starting point for a person needing to address suicide related guilt. It can necessitate professional assistance in the form of a counselor or therapist.
Before moving onward to that topic, bear in mind that all people grieve differently. In fact, the Five Stages or Grief do not necessarily occur in the order presented in this article for all people. For example, you might experience anger initially.
In addition, it is also very likely you may experience more than one stage simultaneously. You any also repeat a stage that you thought you’d already been through. Again, all of us grieve differently and in our own time.
Professional Assistance to Get Beyond Guilt
The grief process associated with a suicide death is challenging enough without the added onus of guilt. The reality is that many survivors of a suicide death of a loved one turn to trained mental health professionals who have a specific background in working with women, men, and children who’ve lost a loved one through this type of death.
Counseling or therapy oftentimes is a tremendous help in working through the grief process after a suicide death. In addition, counseling or therapy can prove vital in dealing with suicide grief.
Beyond one-on-one counseling or therapy, you may also want to consider participating in a therapeutic group as well. There are groups more generally designed for people who have experienced the death of a loved one, with no limitations on the cause of that passing. There are also groups designed for people who are survivors of a suicide death of a loved one.
For a Survivor of a Loved One Who Died by Suicide
When it comes to acknowledging, identifying, and releasing guilt following a suicide death of a person in your life, be patient with yourself. In the final analysis, guilt for the suicide death of a family member or friend is misplaced and unproductive. And it is also commonplace. Don’t aggravate the burden of guilt by thinking you are somehow unique in feeling this way. Simply, you are not alone in carrying guilt following a death by suicide.