Suicide Condolence Etiquette: What to Say And What NOT to Say

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Supporting a loved one who's experienced a death of a loved one by suicide may be scary and uncomfortable, especially when you don't know what to say to comfort them.

Finding the right words to say can be particularly challenging because of the stigma attached to suicide. In our society, rarely does anyone want to discuss the death of a loved one by suicide publicly. Survivors may go to great lengths to hide it, which can make things even more uncomfortable when offering condolences

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One important thing you can do to show your love and kindness to someone dealing with suicide-related grief is to provide compassion and support.  When offering condolences, don't be afraid of using their deceased loved one's name or acknowledging their loss.

Expressing suicide condolences should be the same as providing sympathy to anyone suffering through the tragic loss of a loved one without being judgmental or minimizing their loss. 

What Should You Consider Before You Send Condolences to Someone Who Lost a Loved One to Suicide?

If someone you know has experienced suicide, they may be suffering through a profound loss coupled with feelings of confusion and disbelief. They may not ever fully understand their loved one’s choice in ending their life and might be experiencing feelings of shame, regret, and self-blame. Survivors left behind after suicide may also feel deeply ashamed and not ready to publicly admit the suicide death of their loved one. 

Give them space and time to come to terms with their loss being careful not to avoid them altogether. They may need privacy to work out their feelings and to accept the circumstances surrounding their loved one’s death.

There may also be ongoing investigations that they’re dealing with that keep them from immediately grieving their loss. This may be a good time to keep some distance and instead send an appropriate sympathy gift for a grieving friend

You may also want to consider any cultural, religious, or spiritual differences that may affect your friend’s response to suicide. This might have a great impact on how someone responds to this type of loss, the information they’re willing to share publicly, and the way they grieve. Another factor to consider is that your friend may not be ready to give the details of their loved one’s death or answer any questions. 

ยป MORE: After a loss, who helps you figure out what to do? Introducing Cake's post loss guide.

 

What to Say to Someone Who Lost a Loved One to Suicide

It's important not to treat suicide as any different from other types of losses. Treat your friend or loved one as you would any other person who is grieving a tremendous loss. Death by suicide doesn't make suffering the loss of a loved one any less painful. Your loved one may be experiencing more acute levels of pain because of what might appear to be the senselessness of this type of death. 

When offering your condolences, there shouldn't be anything weird or different about how you express your sympathy. Follow the ordinary customs and traditions associated with a death, such as attending the funeral or memorial service, as usual. Send flowers, give a condolence gift, or send condolences online, through text, or in person. 

1. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

The expression of this simple sentiment applies to anyone who has suffered a significant loss. This is appropriate condolence to offer after the death of a loved one. The manner of death needn't make a difference when offering sincere sympathy for a friend's loss.

Your loved one has suffered a tremendous setback and deserves the same love and support you would offer to anyone under any other circumstance. Not showing the most fundamental expression of condolences can further stigmatize death by suicide and may leave your friend or loved one feeling shunned and ashamed. 

2. “Losing [insert their loved one’s name] must be so hard for you and your family. They will be forever loved and missed.”

Don't be afraid to name the deceased person when offering you condolences. Referring to them by name validates your loved one's loss and lets them know that you won't easily forget the person who's died.

There should never be a reason for you to avoid mentioning the deceased by their first name regardless of how they've died. Using their first name honors the relationship to the survivors and lets them know that you support them during this challenging time in their lives.

3. “How are you doing?”

People who've experienced the death of a loved one by suicide often look at others' reactions to determine who they can count on for support. Another way of expressing your condolences is by asking your friend or loved one directly about how they're doing.

This sends a clear message that the topic of suicide is not off-limits for you and that you're comfortable in talking about their loss and how they're feeling. Having someone to talk to can be very comforting and healing to someone who thinks their loved one's death is stigmatized or otherwise shameful.

4. “I’ll always be here to love and support you.”

Sending a clear message that you’ll always be there for your loved ones lets them know that they can count on you when times get tough in their grieving journey. They may not yet be ready to accept your help and support as they may still be struggling with taking in what’s happened. However, they are sure to remember the generosity of your words when they’re ready to talk about their loss. 

5. “This news is shocking to us all. I’m here for you whenever you need to talk.”

Expressing condolences by mirroring how a bereaved person's feeling is another way of showing your support and understanding following a suicide. When expressing sympathy, it's essential to keep from sounding judgmental or making any assumptions about the manner of death.

You can let your loved ones know that you're there for them whenever they're ready to talk about their loss in a safe and judgment-free environment.  

What NOT to Say to Someone Who Lost a Loved One to Suicide

The tragic and unexpected loss of a loved one can be shocking, painful, and hard to accept. The stigma associated with death by suicide can make it difficult for survivors to talk about.

As important as it is knowing what to say following this type of death, it's also important to know what not to say to someone suffering the death of their loved one who’s died by suicide. Consider some of the following things to avoid saying to someone who’s grieving the loss of a loved one.

6. “I can’t believe [insert deceased’s first name] committed suicide.”

The above statement is not only cringe-worthy, but it's also tough for the family and loved ones of the deceased to hear. In addition to not being so blunt in your assessment, try not to say that someone has committed suicide. The word "committed" tends to reflect that someone did something intentionally or with criminal intent. Suicide is often the result of mental illness and a consequence of succumbing to its impulses.

7. “I know how you feel. I’ve also been through this exact thing.”

Even when you've experienced the exact type of loss as a result of suicide, never assume that you know exactly how someone's feeling following their loss. No two experiences are ever the same,  just as no two people will ever grieve in the same way even when experiencing the death of the same person they loved and cared about.

Telling someone who's mourning the loss of their loved one that you know how they feel can be very offensive and off-putting. It may stir up feelings of resentment in the bereaved person. Be careful to avoid generalizing death by suicide. Even when you think that you're helping, your words can end up being very hurtful.

8. “At least you still have your other children/siblings.”

Every person needs empathy, compassion, and acknowledgment following a loss. Hearing their loved one who died dismissed by your attempt to soothe this loss with the other surviving children is hurtful.

Don't be surprised at the intensity of a person's grief reactions following this type of statement. You can expect a deep level of resentment to follow. To a bereaved parent or sibling, you can't substitute a child who's died with another child still living.

Your intention might be to remind the bereaved parent that there's still much joy left in their life. However, this is a remarkably tone-deaf way of saying it. It's an inappropriate time, if any, to remind them that they still have other children or other siblings.

9. “I can’t believe it. What happened?”

Being curious about how someone died is natural, but asking about the details behind someone's decision to end their life is considered inappropriate funeral etiquette. This is not to say that you should be afraid to talk about their death.

It would help if you take your cues from the family of the person who's died. Allow them to lead the conversation surrounding their loved one's death. Even though you may be curious about why they decided to end their life, it's not your right to know the intimate details surrounding their death.

Expressing Sympathy After a Suicide 

There's no limit to the grieving process. Anyone who's suffered a tragic loss will need love, compassion, and understanding regardless of the circumstances surrounding their loved one's death.

It's natural and normal to feel unsure of what to say to someone whose loved one has died due to suicide. However, try not to let these feelings of uncertainty keep you from expressing your condolences as you usually would to anyone who's suffered a significant and tragic loss.

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