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Bereavement due to suicide

Changing emotions-sadness, guilt & anger

 

Stephen suggests that grieving is not a linear process but is more like a “spiral”.

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Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
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…And in terms of, going back to the day I mean I, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, me telling the children that, you know, and I’m sort of proud of myself in the sense of, of that, and really of they way I’ve dealt with you know what’s happened since, it’s been all very much sort of seat of the pants, it’s always been gut feeling because there is no rule book you know,  there isn’t a, “Well, you know do this next, and then that, and then do this and…” You know the process of grieving is not a linear process, and you hear people coming out with these, you know, “There’s bereavement, there’s various stages of grief and you go through this, and then you go through that”, and it’s a load of rubbish, I mean it’s like you know, it’s much more like a spiral and you’re constantly going through it, you go through some, you think you’ve been there before actually you are in somewhere different  but you, you, you’re re-visiting these phases the whole time.

Some of the people we talked to had been bereaved quite recently. Kate lost a second daughter through suicide in 2007, only months before we talked to her. She said that the tears had not stopped since Anna died, and that at times she feels like dying. Jenny lost her husband David in 2007. She felt desolate after he died and still needs plenty of time to cry. She has a baby daughter and says that without her, and the happiness she brings, it’s too painful to imagine how she would be feeling.

 
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Jenny explains why she prefers to cry alone. Other people expect her to feel better after she has...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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But you can only deal with so much at a time and you almost allow yourself small periods of time to just cry and, and to, you know, to think about things, to grieve, to do all of that, because you, somehow you have to contain it because otherwise you’d just, you feel like you’d just be a dithering wreck indefinitely.
 
And I do have my days when I’ll, or my hours or whatever, that are really quite bad. So basically I do my grieving in private, and I didn’t work out what it was for a long time but I just couldn’t really cry in front of anybody or at least most of the time I couldn’t. And it was just because it is just such a private thing and I was aware that, I knew, I put myself, I think, in their shoes and I could see that if I was comforting a friend then, you know, I would want them to feel better and I might say, “Oh you have a good cry. Cry it out.” But afterwards when they’d stopped crying you’d probably say, “Oh let’s have”, you know, “have a nice cup of tea” or whatever and, “Do you feel a bit better now?” And I thought, “Well that’s not great,” because if that’s me I, I almost feel obliged to say, “Oh, yeah, I’m feeling a bit better now.” And I wouldn’t be feeling better. Of course I wouldn’t be feeling better …
 
No.
 
… my husband’s just died. You know, it’s not like, I don’t know, you know, if something minor had happened, if I’d lost £1000 or I’d had an incredibly bad day and someone had said to me, something nasty to me at work, you know, that I might have been a little bit upset about. It, it’s a hundred times worse than that. My husband has died. You can’t make me feel better.
 
No.
 
I think, and I think this is the thing that, you know, particularly my mum. I mean, you can imagine of course she wants to see me feeling OK. Which isn’t to say she wouldn’t say, “You have a good cry,” because she definitely would.
 
Hmm.
 
But at some point I’ve got to kind of stop crying and, you know, “Yeah I’m feeling a bit better and it’s OK.” And I didn’t want that point to come because I much prefer to just have a longer period where actually I say, you know, “Yeah, this is awful and I feel bloody awful.” And at some point, you know, hours later in the day, I’ll sort of pick myself up and think, “Right, OK, I’ve kind of cried that out enough today. I’m putting it on one side and carrying on.”
 
It may sound a bit convoluted, and it took me a long time, as I say, to sort of articulate why it was, that I wasn’t really crying in front of people. But that’s why, if they see me upset, I feel more upset. I actually feel less upset if I cry it out on my own and then start to feel OK and then come back.

Those who had been bereaved some time ago had experienced a wide range of emotions during the following weeks, months and years. Emotions included sadness, anguish, pain, anger, fear, despair, guilt, rejection, relief, panic, isolation, loneliness, depression, anxiety and concern about loss of memory and concentration.

Grief was sometimes still overwhelming. Years after people had lost close relatives or friends due to suicide many said they still felt desolate.
 

Mike lost his father over 30 years ago but it still feels very recent in his mind. He does not...

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Male
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Extremely hard I mean yes, it is a personal holocaust I mean I think that’s the best way of summing it up it’s, you, your whole world just disintegrates around you, the impact of it is, it’s inconceivable to express, I can’t put it into, into words what it does to you, it really wrings you in, inside out, just a sort of whole, a kaleidoscope of emotions and feelings all swirling around together, which, are just really hard to deal with, you know, confusing.


How long do those feelings go on for, are they still going on?


A long, long time. I mean I, I don’t think you ever adjust, you know some people talk about adjustment to bereavement and, I don’t know whether we ever really adjust fully to, to losing someone who’s close to us that we love, a friend or a relative. But certainly with bereavement through suicide I don’t think you ever do really, you don’t adjust, at best you reach an accommodation with yourself and that’s different to an, that’s different to an adjustment. To use a comparison, my mother died of cancer when I was fifteen and that was like horrendous, we nursed her at home, it was horrendous, and in many ways you could say it was worse, the experience of that, but I’ve come to terms with my mother’s death, you know, in that that was a natural death, natural, natural causes, it was terribly sad it was awful experience to, to see her suffer, but my father’s death through suicide I’ve never, that, that hasn’t healed. Somebody wrote a book called ‘A Special Scar’, it’s a really good way of putting it because it doesn’t heal in the same way, it’s still there, it’s still, it’s still like it was, I’m not saying like yesterday ‘cause it’s been a long time now it’s been over thirty years but it still feels very recent in my mind and it still impacts on me very centrally in a way that my mother’s death doesn’t.

 
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Four years on Dave no longer thinks about his son every second but every hour. The 'weight' of...

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Age at interview: 56
Sex: Male
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Have things changed at all over time or is it just the same?

 

Yes, things change. Yes, when it first happened, it’s there all the time, every second and, but that, gradually, I don’t know whether it will continue to diminish, but it does, it’s not there all the time now.  It’s there every day, it’s there every hour, but it’s not there every second. So things at times, are easier. You can do things and it not be hanging over you all the time.

 

But, if you’ve got the scales there, you’ve always got this weight of losing Ben.

 

That, that, at any time, can hit you.

 

And, and it’s always as bad.  When it’s there, it’s as bad as it ever was.

For a while Susan wondered if she would ever feel joy again after Rose died. She said she is only just beginning to see the colours of the trees and to appreciate that the countryside is beautiful. She also finds grieving exhausting. Barbara said that the terrible pain of losing Matt is still there and that she thinks about him daily. Dolores feels sad because she misses Steve and because her son has lost his father.
 

Dolores lost her husband in 2005. She still feels desperately sad, mainly because her young son...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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…but I think it’s too painful for my family, to deal with their grief because they’re too angry at Steve, because they see the impact it’s had on me, they see the changes it has caused for me and I think they have a great deal of anger which I don’t have any of, that I have absolutely no anger for my husband, I put a lot of that down to the fact I was so angry at him when he was missing, that I don’t carry any anger, I don’t carry any anger, I carry grief, I carry guilt and I carry a great deal of sadness for my son because he’s missed out on a really, really good guy, a big part of his life [crying].

Guilt was a very common emotion, though not felt by everyone. Kate, for example, said that she never felt guilty about her daughters’ deaths, and Susan said that she did not feel guilty because she could not have done more for Rose. But some others said that guilt dominated their thoughts for a long time. Many said they felt that somehow they should have done more to prevent the person’s death. 
 

It took Amanda a long time to accept that her son’s death was not her fault.

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
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Why did you say you want to punish yourself?
 
Because you feel guilty you’ve, you want to punish yourself because you think you in some way could’ve stopped it. And as a mother, I mean mother’s, we’re there to cherish, to look after, to love our children, to make sure nasty things don’t happen to them, and we’ve, therefore we feel like we’ve failed them. So it’s kind of important working out that it was his choice though his decision.
 
Does that feeling, ease a little bit, the feeling of self blame?
 
Oh yes, yeah, I mean originally I used to go through every day of his life, every moment trying to work out where I maybe went wrong, where I could’ve changed it, how things could’ve been different, that I might have noticed something else, yes and I actually don’t think you can actually not do it, I think you’re going to do that.
 
Mmm.
 
Telling somebody to not do it is telling them not to breathe. I think you just do it until you can’t do it anymore and then you, maybe you meet other people who say they were doing it and they’ve had to stop it in the end. And all, all the parents of a similar thing will say, yes it’s not your fault.
 

Steve often feels guilty. He thinks he could have done more to prevent his sister’s suicide. Now...

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Age at interview: 37
Sex: Male
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The guilt probably is the biggest emotion out of, out of the three for me anyway because there are unanswered questions that I think that maybe I should have done more to prevent this. And I suppose it’s beating myself up. I should have done this. I should have done that.  But the guilt is much more intense at happy occasions really and it’s hard to deal with. But fortunately my family have gone through the same bereavement and I can discuss it with them and they know what I mean. And with the SOBS [Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide] group as well, they understand completely when I say, actually I laughed the other day and I felt guilty for laughing. And they know how I’m feeling and they know why. It’s difficult for, for people who aren’t members of the family or people who haven’t gone through this bereavement with us. At work when people are larking about and having a laugh and a joke and I can’t imagine them understanding me saying, ‘Actually I can’t laugh with you because I feel guilty about it because my sister’s dead’. It, it’s difficult.


Other people have said that.


Really?


Mmm.


I’m not surprised. I went on holiday. Well we’ve been on several holidays this year and I’m excited because we’re going on an aeroplane and then we get on the aeroplane and my mood just sinks. And it’s because I’m quietly thinking about my sister who had never been on an aeroplane. She never went on holiday with me and I’m going on holiday again and having a good time and I’m looking forward to it and I feel guilty because of that. And it, it’s hard, it’s hard to explain to people who haven’t gone through the experience of suicide really.

Jane felt guilty for at least seven years after her son died. The first year she had felt she was in a “fog”. Then in the second year the real pain started and she was able to cry.
 

Jane felt guilty for years. She only started to feel better when she decided to carry a bit of...

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
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I think it’s probably in the early days like maybe the first seven years, the biggest problem for me was the feeling of guilt and so I related to it if it cropped up in anything else. I realised that it was a totally negative destructive road to go down, but couldn’t get rid of it. And some friends used to say, “Oh you were wonderful parents”, you were this and that and it just didn’t sit comfortably at all, how could I have been a wonderful parent if  total failure.


I think it was probably the most dominant response, feeling in me for probably the first seven years. And I knew that it was a totally negative response and it was a bad road to go down, because it was destructive, but I couldn’t, I always came back to that, it is how I felt. And I responded to everything else that was brought up on the subject of guilt, but  friends used to say to me,  “Of course you were wonderful parents,” trying to make me feel better if I brought the subject up, and it sat uncomfortably, it didn’t fit, until one day I thought, try the other, opposite response, which is of course you are guilty, you were part of his life, if I can accept that I, I have some responsibility for his life I can understand chemical responses in him, but, I was part of his life, and when I took that step of accepting some responsibility and therefore guilt, it was alright, it just seemed to make sense suddenly, stop trying to push it away, just carry a bit and that made it much better.

Stuart felt very lonely and isolated after his ex-partner died and he worried about his son. He wondered whether he could have done more to prevent Anne’s death.
 
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Stuart kept wondering if he could have done things differently He also feels guilty because he...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Male
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Why would you be cross with yourself?


Just because maybe thinking of things that I should’ve done, or, I could’ve done this differently, or I could’ve done that differently, or, if she’d have, you know, did I really love her enough, did I care for her enough, was I a good enough partner.


That that must’ve been hard?


Yeah that’s the sort of things and you never sort of really get an answer and that was one of the other things after Anne’s death actually was, it wasn’t a feeling but it was just a desire to know that she was okay.


Have you ever felt that other people have expected you to grieve or react in a particular way?


I think after I initially I went to identify her I found it really difficult to cry, and I felt really guilty at not crying so much, and I think that’s one of the things that I have felt guilty at is not being so, not crying so much, but there have been times when I’ve found it really difficult and I’ve found it difficult on my own, and I think people expect a time continuity to it, as though there’s, well after so many months or you should be over it and things will be okay now, but it, it’s not that straight line.

  
It was not unusual for people to describe depression, or even their own suicidal feelings, after the bereavement. Susan, for example, said that when Barry died she found it hard to grieve because she was caring for her young daughter. When Stephen, another son, also died by suicide she felt desperate. She felt upset, frightened, angry and “terribly guilty”. This led to “a breakdown”. She had to give up work for a while and took antidepressants.
 

Susan felt depressed and suicidal after another son died by suicide. She felt she was going mad...

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
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When you said you had a break down, what form did that take?


As I said, I felt quite suicidal, I couldn’t cope, didn’t want to do anything, couldn’t understand really how I was feeling,  thought I was going mad at times, and I knew I needed help; I had to get help to get through it. It wasn’t something I was going be able to do on my own. And you may just think, “Oh you know, brush it under the carpet it’ll go away”. It wasn’t going to work like that.


Was that when you went to your GP?


I did yes. I didn’t like the feelings I was having, I was frightened. And I told my GP that, I told him everything, how I felt, but also the guilt side of things that I felt guilty because of what I was thinking, of what I was feeling.

 
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Ann became very depressed after her friend died. She took antidepressants for 18 months which...

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Age at interview: 60
Sex: Female
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After that was my own, my own journey of coming to terms with what had happened, I did get you know become very depressed. But I went to my doctor immediately and explained how I felt. And she said, “You know you’re suffering form post traumatic stress disorder and this is quite common, and quite usual”. And she put me on antidepressants which, within four or five weeks I was really feeling much better. And she advised me to stay on those antidepressants for quite along time because she said the body needs to realign itself and get back into its normal functioning and just being on the antidepressants for a short period of time wouldn’t actually achieve that. And I took her advice on that and I think it was … it was good advice for me. And certainly after eighteen months, I gradually came off the antidepressants and I was fine. So I felt that supported me to be able to deal with the issues needed dealing with. 

 

Michael was depressed and cried a great deal after his friend died. Eventually he started to feel...

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Age at interview: 42
Sex: Male
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I just got depressed, you know life was very black at the time, …and I would you know, I don’t know, I cried a lot, spent a lot of time just feeling depressed, spent a lot of time wanting to be on my own and being on my own, but then at the same time I think I recognised and I think it was true that although I needed to spend time on my own, when I spent time with other people I definitely cheered up. So I think and having recognised that I then, you know, at times deliberately spent time with other people even if kind of in the lead up to that I didn’t particularly feel like I wanted to because I did know that actually that would make me feel just happier and you know other, and sometimes you talk about other things, sometimes you would talk about my friends death, but just sharing it with other people did actually kind of lighten the load I think.

 

So what happened after that? You’d been off work for a while?

 

Yes, well after I’d been off work for a while, …I mean after about, I was off work for about 10 weeks I think…. My other friend had got out of the hospital, I think you know, eventually it just became time to go back to work, and I did. And I think I went back part time initially and then full time. I mean basically, you know, I gave myself a lot of space to take, take time and just kind of gradually re-immerse myself into the everyday world, and eventually you, you know life does go on and you do slip back into it and you know, initially well, you know for an ongoing period obviously it still dominates your thoughts for a long time and you know I’d get upset very easily a lot, very quickly and I would think about him a great deal and you know obviously that was now thirteen years ago, you know eventually you think about it less and less and other things happen and you have to go back to work, and you know kind of life starts taking over again and eventually things kind of fade a bit into the background.
People often felt angry. Some were angry with God, some were angry with mental health services, some were angry with a person who they felt had caused the situation leading to the suicide, and others felt angry with the person who had died. Ted, for example, was only 12 years old when his father died. He felt intense grief for about a year and then suddenly realised that he did not feel anything except anger. He was angry because he felt that his father’s suicide had ruined his mother’s life.
 

After a year of intense grief Ted only felt anger with his father for what his father had done.

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Age at interview: 56
Sex: Male
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And I was numb and I, for a year I suppose. I think it, in my mind it’s a year that the intense grief lasted and I’ve had many other things happen to me in my life, I’ve had divorce, I’ve had other losses, you know, I’ve had various other traumatic experiences, but I’ve never experienced anything like that. It’s as though all the other deeply emotional experiences I have are nothing when set, set beside that period of that day it happened and that year afterwards. I would doubt I’d even truly grieved since then because I tend to dismiss grief, that period was so painful to me it, it, it, it, it was so painful that it was a place that I, that I, that I never want to go again.


After a year, of feeling terrible as I remember it, outwardly I know, that I was behaving like I always did and I think this is the thing about children, I think you can underestimate just how emotional, because I think in terms of emotion as I say that children, certainly of 12, are just as sophisticated in their emotions as adults, so when you feel emotional pain it’s the same as an adult feeling emotional pain, but as far as the adults around me were concerned, you know I didn’t show them that emotional pain, I never cried, only on the time I heard it, I, that was the only time I cried. In fact I got really fed up with my mother sitting on the stairs weeping. And then after a year it seems to me like a year, I suddenly realised one day that I didn’t feel anything anymore, except anger with my father for what he’d done.

 

At times Lynne feels sad and angry that her mother has not been there to share the important...

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Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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Yes, I’m, what I was trying to explain was there’s, there’s a lot of sadness and anger that that she has not been part of all the big things that have happened to me since , but that at the time, that it’s almost as if it’s an anger about her making a decision not to be there, that she chose not to be part of our lives anymore, but it’s also I guess an understanding that at the time she made that choice she was a very poorly lady.


Mm.


And that throughout those last few months of her life she wasn’t, a lot of her thinking was revolving around her, she was at a place where she was very unhappy, she was very ill, and she wasn’t thinking in a logical way.

After a number of months or years most people said that they had adjusted, at least to some extent, to life without the person who had died. They still felt a great sense of loss but feelings had changed (see ‘Adjusting to life without the person who died’.)

Last reviewed July 2017.

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