On the list of potential tragedies that can happen during the course of a lifetime, one of the most intensely sorrowful is the loss of a family member or friend to death by suicide. As a result of what appropriately can be called the high suicide rate in the United States, which is likely to uptick at least a bit more as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis, odds are you know or will know a suicide loss survivor. As a consequence, take a moment to consider these five ways in which you can assist and support a suicide loss survivor.

  • Acknowledge the death
  • Ask if and how you can help
  • Encourage openness
  • Be patient
  • Listen

Acknowledge the Death

An important way you can assist and support a suicide loss survivor is to acknowledge the death. So often when a person experiences the loss of a loved one by suicide, those around that individual don’t know what to say – and they end up saying nothing. 

Extend your condolences to the individual who has lost a family member or friend by suicide. Let them know that you are sorry for that person’s loss in the same manner you would otherwise express loss over the passing of a person’s family member or friend. 

The stark reality is that many individuals who’ve lost a loved one by suicide experience what has a clinical name: stress cardiomyopathy. In layperson’s terms, that loosely translates to “broken heart.” Survivors of suicide loss really need the empathy of others in their lives. They need compassion and understanding to heal. An awareness of this empathy, compassion, and understanding is best realized by a person who is a suicide loss survivor when you do acknowledge the death and openly reach out to that individual. 

Inquire If and How You Can Assist

Another way you can assist and support a person who’s lost a loved one by suicide is to ask if and how you can help. The mere act of reaching out in this manner is an important supportive gesture even if a person does not yet know how someone else can be of any help. 

The acting of asking if and how you can help demonstrates to a person who has lost a loved one through death by suicide that you are there and that you’re not distancing yourself or avoiding. Oftentimes, a suicide loss survivor (particularly when a family member died by suicide) feels a sense of shame. You provide significant comfort by making sure you let a person in this position know you really are there and willing to assist in whatever manner that the individual might find useful and appropriate.

Encourage Openness

You truly provide a tremendous level of assistance to a suicide loss survivor when you encourage openness. Remember: as was mentioned previously, in many instances, a suicide loss survivor may experience what can be a profound sense of shame, particularly if the deceased individual was a member of that person’s family.

By encouraging a sense of openness, a survivor will be more apt to find comfort in expressing his or her emotions to you. The emotions experienced by a suicide loss survivor can run the range from sadness to anger and many others. Indeed, a survivor of a person who died by suicide is likely to experience more than one profound emotion at the same time. 

Be Patient

Bear in mind that we all grieve in our own ways. When it comes to a suicide loss survivor, the grieving process can prove to be highly challenging and complex. Thus, you provide very real assistance and support to an individual who’s lost a loved one by suicide through patience. 

Be patient in all ways with a survivor. Do not impose any type of limitations on what a survivor elects to share with you, how they share it, or even how often they share the same story, feeling, or concern with you. Repetition actually is an element of a healthy grief process. Thus, you do want to avoid statements like “you already told me that.”

Listen

In this day and age, we frequently hear that we should be “active listeners.” When it comes to listening to a survivor of suicide loss, perhaps the real course is not to be a stereotypical active listener like a person at a professional networking event. Rather, be an engaged and compassionate listener. 

You don’t need to feel pressured to provide a great deal of commentary, let alone insights. Being with a suicide loss survivor really is a time in your life when you focus on being a listener. In the end, the greatest gift or benefit you can give to a suicide loss survivor is your time, empathy, and love.