Losing a parent to suicide is different than when a parent dies of any other type of sudden death. Suicide can leave survivors with more questions than answers. Processing a death by suicide can be difficult to accept.
Suicide casts a permanent shadow on your understanding of the relationship with your loved one, especially when your last parent dies and there’s no one else to turn to for specific answers.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Can You Expect After a Parent Commits Suicide?
- How to Cope After a Parent Commits Suicide
- Tips for Helping a Loved One or Friend Who’s Parent Committed Suicide
Different types of grief affect those who’ve experienced a death of a loved one or another significant loss or tragedy. As such, everyone grieves differently from the next person, even when they share the same loss experience. Being unsure of what to expect after a death by suicide is not uncommon.
The following tips and information will help you get some of the answers to what you should expect.
What Can You Expect After a Parent Commits Suicide?
After a death by suicide, you can expect to feel mixed grief reactions. You can also expect others to openly speculate on what happened and why. Many people won’t speak directly about suicide. But privately, they may hold many ideas and opinions about why it happened. In certain cultures and societies, there’s a stigma that attaches to taking one’s life.
Family, friends, and loved ones left behind may sometimes suffer in silence, finding this type of death difficult to accept. Some will live in denial, shame, and regret for the rest of their lives.
Immediately following your parent's death, expect a whirlwind of activity to meet you such as hushed gossip, the filing of police reports, coroner's investigations, and tasks needing attention immediately after their death. Prepare yourself by carving out some time to be alone with your grief during the first few days following your loss.
How to Cope After a Parent Commits Suicide
Coping after a parent’s death by suicide is challenging. It may raise many questions as to why they chose to end their lives this way. You may find that you're left with many more unanswered questions than reasons why your parent chose suicide over getting help. Gaining comfort and healing from your loss may become more challenging as the days turn into weeks.
Finding the needed support from your friends and loved ones may prove difficult as people feel uncomfortable even when dealing with death, let alone one by suicide. Seek outside sources of support to help you cope when needed. The tips below may help you manage.
Accept your emotions
It's natural to feel angry or guilty when a parent commits suicide, even if it was the death of an estranged parent. You'll soon learn that their suicide leaves you experiencing many different and uncomfortable emotions. Suppressed memories and their attached feelings from years ago may now resurface, leaving you confused.
Alternatively, you may wonder what led them to take their life when everything seemed to be going well. To help you make sense of it all, be sure to take time to sort through your emotions. Accept each one as they come up and try to pinpoint why you're feeling this way. Writing them down may help you process your grief as you may not have immediate answers.
Call on your support system
Whenever possible, reach out to those you’re closest to for help and support. Not everyone will be comfortable with talking to you or offering their support after a death by suicide. Realizing this may help ease the pain that comes from what feels like rejection in your most significant time of need.
Many people may not readily accept suicide as it may go against their religion or spiritual teachings and beliefs. Try not to get discouraged and keep reaching out to your friends and loved ones, letting them know how they can help you during this time.
Talk to someone
Everyone's conversations about suicide will be different. One of the most common questions people will have is "why?" There is no universal answer as to why a person, let alone a parent, will commit suicide. Even when the person leaves behind a note or explanation, it doesn't always fully answer the question.
Sometimes, it's difficult for a person to understand why they're feeling the way they do, leading up to the decision to end things. When trying to explain to others what happened, keep your answers brief and to the point. Don't try to justify why or fill in the holes when you might not fully understand them yourself.
Don’t blame yourself
Your parent's suicide may leave you thinking about what you could have done differently to prevent their death. It's not unusual for survivors left behind to struggle with these relentless or painful thoughts.
Self-blame may lead to feelings of chronic grief and depression if allowed to come to a head. Remind yourself that other people's actions are beyond your control. Generally, there isn't anything anyone can do differently to prevent suicide from happening.
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Join a support group
Peer support groups are beneficial when you've experienced the suicide death of a parent. When you share your grief journey with others who share your experiences, you find solace in one another. The people you meet through support groups can help you learn strategies and techniques for self-care, coping, and resilience.
The more you actively participate in these groups by sharing your experiences with others, the more likely that you’ll benefit from what these groups offer.
Seek professional help
Seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can be immensely helpful, especially if you're suffering from post-traumatic symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, fear, and anxiety. All of these grief reactions typically accompany death by suicide and can be challenging to overcome on your own. Finding a therapist that understands grief and suicide may help you understand and process your suffering better.
Tips for Helping a Loved One or Friend Who’s Parent Committed Suicide
Supporting someone who's suffered a parent’s death by suicide can be challenging. Sudden death is traumatic regardless of how it occurs. Your friend or loved one will need empathy, compassion, and acknowledgment of their parent's suicide. They may seek your support and validation of their feelings and emotions.
The following suggestions may help you understand what your friend or loved one's going through so you can help them cope with their parent's death.
What to say
Supporting a loved one whose parent has committed suicide may feel overwhelming since you may not know what to say in such circumstances. You may worry that you'll say the wrong thing or that you'll offend them. Know that suicide-related grief and bereavement are different from any other type of loss.
You may want to start the conversation by letting your friend or loved one know that you're sorry for their loss. Remind them that it's not their fault. And, if you don't know what to say, a simple "I'm thinking of you" will go a long way.
What you can do
When you don't know what to do when a friend's parent dies, know that being there for them is one of the most significant ways to support someone you love and care about. Talking with your friend or loved one and encouraging them to open up about their experience can help get them through the most challenging days immediately following their loss.
You can also physically help them take care of things that they won't feel like doing while they're taking in their loss. Ask them for specific things they need help with and plan for how and when you'll help them. Here are some suggestions:
- Notify others of the death
- Help around the house
- Take care of bill paying tasks and chores
- Help make final arrangements
Memorial or sympathy gift ideas
Letting a friend or loved one know that you love and support them during their time of grief goes a long way in showing them that you care. There are many ways to let someone know that you share in their grief. Consider sending a sympathy card or a bouquet of flowers.
When the right words escape you, let the pros put into words what you can’t say for yourself. Personalize a sympathy card by signing it with a simple closing statement such as “I’m here for you” or “Sorry for your loss.”
Other helpful sympathy gift ideas can include a subscription to a prepared food delivery service, a memorial plaque, or a personalized wind chime. Consider donating to a charity of their choice in the name of the deceased.
Let them speak
Lending an ear can help someone who's suffering through the death of a parent. When talking about their loss, let your friend or loved one take as much time as needed. Try and reserve judgment or refrain from offering your opinions or speculations as to why it happened. Be patient with them and show them an opportunity to share their story regardless of how many times they need to tell it.
Offer a safe and supportive environment
When showing support to someone who's mourning, invite them to talk about their experiences in a safe and supportive environment. Let them tell you about their parent, and encourage them to share memories and photos of them.
Let your loved one guide the conversation and how much information they want to share with you. Don't be afraid to mention their parent by name. Don’t shy away from the details if they're wanting to share them with you.
Offer emotional support
Allow them to openly express their grief without judgment. Providing emotional support can include contacting your loved one when you hear about their parent’s death and calling or texting them to see how they’re holding up throughout the day. Ask when’s a good time for you to drop by to show your support in person when appropriate.
When a Parent Dies by Suicide
Losing a parent to suicide can be traumatic and complicated for anyone who’s experienced this type of death. Your loved one will need your understanding. Your loving support can help your loved ones get through their pain and suffering even when they feel that their grief is insurmountable.