A-Z

Bereavement due to suicide

Messages to others who have been bereaved

People offered many different types of advice based on their experiences of having been bereaved by suicide. They also stressed that people are all different and what works for one person may not work for someone else. Here are some of their suggestions'

Don’t blame yourself

  • Don't blame yourself
  • Remember that you are not responsible for the death
  • Don’t think that the person who died didn’t love you.
 

Jasvinder understands feelings of depression and guilt about losing a member of a South Asian...

Jasvinder understands feelings of depression and guilt about losing a member of a South Asian...

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Female
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Have you got any message for other people who’ve been bereaved like you?

 

I think the important thing here is to say to South Asian women out there, and men, that I understand the feelings of sheer depression, alienation, and guilt in relation to losing a member of your family to suicide. And I also understand the sheer powerlessness, the powerlessness of being able to save that life, because at the end of the day as a sister watching your sister, or a bystander watching a member of your family, self harm or even die of suicide, you have to remember that you are not responsible for that death, and you are also somebody who is entwined in that web of the family in the community, and that may, and I say may because I’m not generalising, that may put the izzat, the honour of a family, before a life and that is something that you must break from and you must speak out about and I would encourage people to speak out if they have lost somebody in that way to give other people hope, and also to prevent suicides of south Asian women.

 

Lucreta blamed herself for over a year when her daughter died, and says it's important not to do...

Lucreta blamed herself for over a year when her daughter died, and says it's important not to do...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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Have you got any message for other people who’ve been bereaved?


Okay, there’s hope in this world. Don’t ever give in. You can make it and you will. You were born into this world, it took time for you to come here, and your child was with you for more years than she’s not with you now. So don’t push things, don’t expect to heal now. In Dionne’s case, Dionne’s been missing for lesser years that I’ve had her, focus on the years you’ve had. Remember, the pleasant times, the funny times, the childish times. But listen and try to pick up the signals, and it’s not your fault. Please, do not blame yourself, like I did for over a year. And remember you are the best.

 

Lynne urges others not to be hard on themselves. When someone has a mental health problem the...

Lynne urges others not to be hard on themselves. When someone has a mental health problem the...

Age at interview: 47
Sex: Female
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And I suppose the thing for other families and friends of people who’ve committed suicide is not to be too hard on yourself, because I think there is, certainly for us, a whole tendency to soul search and try to answer all those questions about what could we have done differently, and what did we miss, and why didn’t we do things, or why didn’t we pick up on whatever it may have been the day the person died, why didn’t we know that was going to happen or why couldn’t we stop them. But I think if, if you live with a person with a mental health problem over a long period of time, you’re under as a family a lot of pressure and a lot of sustained pressure and in the cold light of day you’re so, after a person’s died, you may look back and think I should’ve done this and I should’ve done that and I could’ve done…, but just not to underestimate as a family or as friends just the day in and day out pressure that you’re under, that probably you were doing the best that you could at the time, but the place that the person was at because they are unwell, was just at a place where you couldn’t do anymore.


Yeah.


And I think there is a tendency you know to be very very hard on yourself, and in hindsight you can look back without that day in and day out pressure, and be quite tough on yourself about what you should’ve done differently, but when you’re in the midst of that pressure you probably are doing the best that you can do.

Find help and support for yourself
 
  • Reach out for help from other people, such as friends and family
  • Feel open to getting professional help, perhaps from a counsellor
  • Look for others who have had a similar experience
  • Read books or stories about others who have been bereaved
  • Join a support group such as Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, or Compassionate Friends
  • Be aware of the Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide helpline
 

Mike suggests that people should know what support is available for those bereaved by suicide and...

Mike suggests that people should know what support is available for those bereaved by suicide and...

Age at interview: 53
Sex: Male
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The message that I would like to pass on is for people to be aware of what support there is available, to be aware of the information pack we’ve now got Help is at Hand which was developed, as I say, by the Department of Health, with a whole group of interested stakeholders like myself and, and others, to develop a comprehensive guidance for people bereaved through suicide, and people suffering sudden and traumatic death ‘cause it covers that as well, like murders and road accidents etcetera. It’s really important to be aware of that resource and to be aware of the support helpline that SOBS provides seven days a week, to know about that and.

 

What does SOBS stand for?

 

Survivors of Bereavement through Suicide, to be aware of that organisation and the, the help and support they can provide, because they have this national phone line, to be aware of organisations for people who’ve lost children in particular, Winston’s Wish do some great work, they do some really good work in helping and supporting people bereaved through suicide particularly young children. So to be aware of what the resources are and the, the great thing about the Help is at Hand document it’s got all that in there.

Mmm.

 

You know so, I would, I would, I would always say go and get help, don’t try and struggle with it on your own, it’s too painful, it’s too difficult, you need the support of these other organisations, and I really would encourage and, and, and recommend to people that they got help and support through them, it’s too big a thing to carry on your own.
 

Steve found the support group, “Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide” very helpful.

Steve found the support group, “Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide” very helpful.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Male
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Have you got any other messages?


It’s really difficult to have, to have a message really because you hope, I certainly hope that people don’t find themselves in the similar situation to me. The biggest message really is to the mental health people to sort themselves out and to not allow people to be put in the situation that we’ve been put really. For people who have suffered a bereavement by suicide I would highly recommend that they join some kind of group specifically run for bereavement of suicide because the bereavement counselling although it’s good to talk and perhaps get some things off your chest it probably won’t fulfil your needs completely. So I suppose the biggest message is, you’re not alone. There are other people out there who are feeling the way you feel and who are experiencing the same things as you. And if you can, join a group like SOBS because they are so helpful.

 

Mike recommends Alison Wertheimer's book 'A Special Scar'. It helped him understand emotions and...

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Mike recommends Alison Wertheimer's book 'A Special Scar'. It helped him understand emotions and...

Age at interview: 53
Sex: Male
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Are there any other books that you’d recommend to people?


The big book that we’ve always recommended to people in Leeds which I think is excellent is, A Special Scar by Alison Wertheimer. (…) I found it helped me, reading it. It helped me understand sort of emotions and feelings around suicide. I think with her professional background as a psychologist as well as having a personal loss [Alison Wertheimer lost her own sister by suicide] it’s a great thing she’s put this together, and you know there are a number of good books and as I say we know about the websites and articles, but I think that particular book is one I would really recommend to people, it’s particularly good.

Mourn at your own pace and in a way which is right for you

  • Seeing other people can help but don’t feel you have to join in social activities before you are ready
  • Try not to lock yourself away
  • Listen to yourself
  • Not everyone is the same- all emotions are valid
  • Allow yourself to be angry or sad or even laugh if you want to
  • Talk about the person you lost
  • Don’t talk to the same friends over and over again about your loss
  • Remember the good times
 

Friends pressed Jane to go to social events. She says that bereaved people must understand that...

Friends pressed Jane to go to social events. She says that bereaved people must understand that...

Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
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I think the main one is that this, back to what I’ve already said, is that there is a huge pressure of society to join in and that’s not general, I mean you know other people’s expectations of you, and it is very powerful and it took me a long time to realise it was OK to say, “No, this isn’t right for me”, and find an alternative way of dealing with something.


Mm.


So I did feel pressure and I succumbed to it, and it didn’t do me any good, you know trying to fit in with whatever other people want and people would, there were people that thought they were doing the right thing by me, by suggesting and encouraging me to do something, and could be quite overpowering in that way, so it’s difficult isn’t it?


So was the most helpful thing having just the individuals talking to you?

 

Yes. Yeah.

 

Rather than inviting you to a gathering or something.

 

Yes. Oh definitely. Yes.

 

How many years did it take for you to feel comfortable about going to those large events again?

 

Oh a long time, I mean it could’ve been seven years. I think seven years was a bit of a watershed, because I think we were making steps forward, progress of learning how to deal with life again, for seven years, and I think after seven years we didn’t change much. That’s how I see it. And coming up to 23 years, that, the progress was mainly in that 7 years.

 

Mm.

 

And the first two were painful and then sort of from then on for me it was taking steps forward.

Practical matters and ways of coping (also see ‘Coping with grief and keeping memories alive’)
 
  • Don’t do anything drastic, such as moving house, for the first 12 months
  • If you feel you need time take time off work
  • Go back to work if that keeps your mind off sad thoughts
  • Tell people at work that you might need time away from work from time to time
  • Have a purpose in life
  • Develop hobbies and other interests
 

It helps to keep busy and have a purpose in life. Brenda does not talk about her son’s death too...

It helps to keep busy and have a purpose in life. Brenda does not talk about her son’s death too...

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
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I do feel to keep occupied, to have a purpose in life, you know, whatever it is. A hobby is very, very, it can be anything, you know, I mean it doesn’t have to be golf or tennis or swimming, I don’t mean anything like that, but just have an interest in life because it’s not doing anybody, yourself, or the person that you’ve lost any good by just sitting down and crying. And also you have to be careful when you’re talking to other people that you make the same mistake by keep bringing the subject up because in the end you can lose friends by keep repeating yourself all the time about the person you love. They know that you’ve lost somebody. They know how close you were. They know that.

 

You don’t want to be in this situation but you are, so to keep permanently reminding that person all the time that , you know, “I’ve lost somebody and what am I going to do? And how am I going to get through this? And how am I going to cope?” Is just no good, they don’t want to hear this, the average person. And I do truly believe you’ll get on in life better, you’ll meet more people if you can be more positive because, even though you do meet different people through your life that don’t know your tragedy, if you can just sort of skirt it and just tell them that’s what’s happened, they have a picture in their mind that you’ve had this person, you’ve loved them, you’ve lost them and by making another conversation with them you’ll have a better relationship with the people.

 

Bob says that others should never expect him and his wife to be the same as before, and that...

Bob says that others should never expect him and his wife to be the same as before, and that...

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
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Let them talk about the bereavement. Don’t, don’t try and stop them talking. And let them, …it’s not something you get over, it’s something they’ve got to learn to cope with and don’t expect people to be as they were before, we’re not the same people we were, we never will be the old Bob, the old Lynda. And you can’t have those back. Part of you has died, you know and your life becomes different. And let other people do the same. And the other important thing I would say to survivors is do not do anything drastic for the first 12 months. Do not move house, wait for 12 months and see what you feel like then. When this first happened Lynda wanted to get out of this house, but after a while she realised this was the place that had the most memories of him.

Remember
 
  • Things do become easier with time
  • You’ll be alright
  • Mourn the dead but cherish the living”
  • You are not alone in your grief
  • Bad things can have good consequences”
 

Alex draws attention to the saying “Mourn the dead and cherish the living”, and says that the...

Alex draws attention to the saying “Mourn the dead and cherish the living”, and says that the...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
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A friend of ours said there is a wonderful Jewish saying that, “Mourn the dead, and Cherish the living.” And so I think the feeling that the living do need to continue to have a good deal of support is a very important thing to bear in mind. Beyond that, I mean for those who have been bereaved, I think considerable comfort can be taken from a knowledge that over time these things do become easier to bear, and the pain is extremely sharp for quite a long time and it seems sometimes that it will be there forever, but these things do change, and the passage of time is enormously helpful, but, beyond that no, I don’t think I have anything further [to add].
 

Rachel believes she learnt something from her bereavement. She realises that life is too short...

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Rachel believes she learnt something from her bereavement. She realises that life is too short...

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
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You said that your experiences have somehow changed how you sometimes view life.

 

Yes, I think, I think they stem from some of the letters I read after mum died and, you know, the lovely things that people said about mum, what they remember about her. And they just made me think, you know, how, how I feel if someone says something positive about me. In fact I found a letter a couple of years ago from my headmistress actually that she wrote, when I left school I wrote to her thanking her, and she wrote me a lovely letter just saying some quite nice things about me personally. I remember even reading it two years ago brought tears to my eyes to think that that’s what someone thought of me. And so I think more now if I’m in a situation that, you know, I’m having a particularly, I don’t know, I feel particularly happy or I’ve had a lovely day or someone’s been, you know, kind to me or, you know, I, I think something strongly about someone, I’ll tell them. And, and I can still see people look a bit uncomfortable to start with. If I just say, “Can I just say I’ve had a really lovely day”, you know, people obviously aren’t used to it. But I just think, well, I’d, I’d like to, if I’ve enjoyed something I want to tell someone I’ve enjoyed them. Or, you know, if friends have helped me out, then I do, I try and let them know what they’ve done for me. So I think that hopefully is a, is a positive thing that’s come out of all this. Life is too short I’ve realised.

 

Ted's loss of his father by suicide has given him a kind of strength in terms of dealing with...

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Ted's loss of his father by suicide has given him a kind of strength in terms of dealing with...

Age at interview: 56
Sex: Male
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I wouldn’t wind back the tape and say, you know it’s ruined my life because it in no way do I think it has, in fact I think, I almost, I know that it’s a very strange thing to say, but I almost feel as though it was a gift, you know? This traumatic event made me feel different, and it gave me armour, it made me feel strong as well. And I suppose I’ve taken more risks than I would have done otherwise. I’ve changed, you know I’ve, you know, I’ve been a bit more adventurous than I could’ve been, you know in my personal life and in my career, you know I think it’s got, it’s given me a kind of creative insight, and it’s given me a kind of strength in terms of dealing with adversity.

 

Why do you think that’s happened, that event gave you that strength?

 

Because I measure things against it.

 

Mm.

 

In a kind of unconscious way. I’ve been there, I’ve been to this terrible place and you know I know this divorce I’m going through with all it’s pain is not nearly as bad, I know this unemployment is not nearly as bad, I know, you know, I know that I can survive this, I survived that.


But it made you stronger you said?

 

Well it makes you stronger and, and in reality you know you go out after that and the colours are brighter, you know, your experiences are potentially more intense, you have insight into people’s emotions, you, you, you, you have intellectual curiosity because you’re presented with something that’s different and you have to accommodate it so, it’s, it’s in a way, it’s a privilege, you know, and also the other thing is that , everybody experiences joy and loss in their life, and you know when you can look on them as all part of, part of what it means to be alive.

 

Mm.

 

Then that surely enriches you? Just as much as the love enriches you so this also tragedy enriches you as well, so it’s an enriching experience if you look on it in the right way, and you have to examine it, to look on it in the right way. If you say, “Oh it’s dreadful and my life’s been wrecked,” that’s not a recipe for coming to terms with it, but if you say, I’ve had this experience, you know, what can I do with it? You know, it’s very hard though if you’ve lost, it, that’s easy to do if you’ve lost a parent.

 

Mm.

 

If you’ve lost a child, I, I’ve got children, so I don’t know, I don’t think if I lost a child to suicide that I would feel the same.

 

After Steve’s death his organs were donated to eight other people. Dolores feels that at least...

After Steve’s death his organs were donated to eight other people. Dolores feels that at least...

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
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Is there anything else you want to say about the organ donation?


I think what I would say is that really, it’s given me something really positive to hold on to, they sent me a letter, they’ve sent me letters about what happened with Steve’s, the procedure used to take his organs, they then wrote to me to tell me what organs they took, and then we got a final letter to say how many lives he helped and he helped eight lives, and the cornea implants, which is quite a new thing in many ways has helped two lots of people and that to me, is something I can give to my son, and daddy still was doing good after he died, and he is still doing good because there’s people embracing life today because of it, and that has to be the positive and, just to know that, it’s a big, it does take a lot of sadness away for me at times because I do know, there’s somebody out there walking about who has got an extra gift because of Steve.

 

Mmm.

 

So that makes a big difference to me and I can’t promote organ donation enough, when, the day of Steve’s funeral we actually had got organ donation leaflets from the organ donator and they were put in the, the service sheets for everyone and we, I heard back from a few people that they actually filled in the donor cards. So I do feel it made a difference.

Caring for children when you have lost a partner or another child
 
  • Tell the truth – your children need to trust you
  • You will find the words to tell your children what has happened
  • Talk to your children about what has happened when the time is right
  • Find help and support for your children
  • Make a memory box
  • Find good childcare if you are on your own and need to work
  • Get some routines in place for the children
  • Don’t push yourself or your children
  • If you have lost a child make sure your other children know that they are special
 

Stuart had a young son when he lost his ex-partner. Suddenly he had full responsibility for his...

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Stuart had a young son when he lost his ex-partner. Suddenly he had full responsibility for his...

Age at interview: 40
Sex: Male
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It’s also about trying to keep things going as well, even though it’s really difficult. Other sort of practical things I would say to people are trying to; if there’s my top five things let’s say of things that people needed to do, it’s probably, I imagine it would be one would be care for yourself, and make sure that you’ve got support in caring for yourself so let your work know, and let work know that although you come back you may need to ease yourself back into things and there may be a time when you have to go back away from work.


Mmm.

 

I think the other thing is making sure that you’ve got some sort of care, for your child so you can care for them and you try and get some routines in place for them…


Mmm.


…and they, and talk to them about what’s happened sort of well and don’t, don’t ignore the death of the person or anything about the person…


Mmm.


…and you could make the memory box would be helpful for that. The other thing which I would say as well is making sure you get some good childcare as well, I was very lucky for that because [my son] was attending, well my son was attending an out of school club, and they were excellent, and there’s, there’s a young lad from there who looks after my son…


Oh that’s good.


…and I think that’s particularly good to have a boy looking after a boy and he’s been very good and they have a good relationship, and you also know that if that person comes from the out of school club that they’ve been checked as well…


Mmm.


…and that they’ll have some experience of dealing with children so that’s really useful. And then it was trying to make sure that I kept something going for myself…


Mmm.


…and that the more, only for myself and it may be different for other people, but the more that I found that I kept myself busy the better it is so I didn’t dwell too much on things, but then the other tips would be as well would be making sure that you’ve got, some sort of support network in place for yourself, and you’ve got some way to channel the sort of, bereavement that you deal with…


Mmm.


…as well I think that’s sort of quite important.


Those are really useful messages for other people.

 

Make sure your other children know they’re still really special because it could almost seem that...

Make sure your other children know they’re still really special because it could almost seem that...

Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
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I think it is kind of important to find people in a similar situation, to find that they, they’ve survived, and do what you feel’s right. There’s no book, I mean there are books out there on suicide, I read one in the early days but it wasn’t about Lori, and I couldn’t see anybody could’ve written a book about him because he was unique, and so there isn’t going be a book that explains why they’ve done it or anything else, and it’s no good having a book that tells you how to grieve because that doesn’t help really a either. It helps to know that you’re not going mad, even if you think you’re going mad sometimes.


Have you got any other message for the, for mothers who’ve got other children, did you ever think of contacting Winston’s Wish for example, Seesaw other organizations especially for children?


No. My son’s are older…


Ah.


…so that wasn’t really appropriate…


No.


…to choose something for them, and I encouraged them to seek help. Make your other children know that they’re still really special because it could, it could almost seem that the dead child is more important than the ones you have alive, I think that’s really important.

 

Ted was only 12 when his father died. He says that if you are a survivor all emotions are valid...

Ted was only 12 when his father died. He says that if you are a survivor all emotions are valid...

Age at interview: 56
Sex: Male
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…and again if you, if you’re a survivor, you know again whatever emotion you have is, is a valid one, and not everybody is the same, and you’ve got to work it out in your own way. So you’ve got to remember, you’ve got to remember who you are.


Mm.


And be true to yourself.


Mm.


And this person who’s gone who you were very very close to, well that’s something that’s happened but it’s your responsibility again as a survivor to carry on and you know be strong, you know, and you know, get the, get the best out of it, and and also the other thing is, that I do think it is a good idea to talk about it.


Mm.

 

It’s not a good idea not to talk about it, all the research as far I know that’s been done on issues of secrecy says that it is corrosive and that children [need to know], however old they are, it’s not a case of, “I’ll do it next week, I’ll do it next month, I’ll do it next year, or I’ll do it when he’s 12.” If you’re thinking like that, it’ll never happen. You have to do it now, you can’t go and read a book and find out how to do it, you have to do it now, you have to say I am going to tell this person this child, you talk to your child, you say, you you make, you make a pact with yourself that you are going to do this thing, you are going to, however hard it is, you are going to tell this child, that your, that this father who they’ve been terribly close to has taken their own life. You make that decision because it’s the right thing to do. And there is a right thing to do. You make that decision and then you will find the words.

 

Mm.

 

The words will come to you, not in any mystical way because you know how to talk to your children because you know you’ve got a relationship with them so you use that, you don’t suddenly go into a different mode where you start behaving in a different way towards them, and then it becomes easy to do.

Advice for friends and others who want to help
 
  • Let people grieve at their own speed - don’t try to hurry them
  • Offer help with practical tasks such as looking after children, shopping or housework

Last reviewed July 2017.

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