A-Z

Bereavement due to traumatic death

Informal support - Family and friends

Those bereaved by suicide have many sources of support (see ‘Help and support from professionals’, ‘Help from Cruse Bereavement Care’, ‘Self-help groups, conferences, helplines’, ‘Help and information through the internet’ and ‘Support for children and young people’). Many people used one or more of these.

Some people we talked to, especially those bereaved many years ago, said that they relied on friends, family and colleagues after their loved one had died. Years ago professional support was not easily available and support groups were hard to find. Some of those bereaved more recently also preferred to talk to family or friends, rather than professional counsellors or others involved in support networks.

 

After Alice died Alex did not seek counselling. He spent time talking to close friends rather...

After Alice died Alex did not seek counselling. He spent time talking to close friends rather...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
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And you yourself, where did you find support at that time?
 
[pause] ...I spent a fair amount of time talking with one or two close friends that I’ve got, but I think generally I went less that some other family members for external support. Whether it’s a male female thing, or me as an individual, I don’t know, but I think I found it in retrospect, very helpful to feel that there were other family members who also needed a certain amount of support, and that provided a way forward in a certain, a role as it were in what is obviously a difficult period. And there were certainly periods when I found that I wanted to not be too overt about my own emotions, because of the feeling that other people needed support. I have a lot of family background in Africa where I was brought up, and having seen a lot of people in Africa who’ve been bereaved, who’ve lost children; that it’s a very normal thing for many people unfortunately, I think I’ve always been struck by the extent to which family members are able to deal with that. And to provide mutual support, so I suppose for me that was more of a feature of my coming to terms with what had happened than seeking external support, I suppose I’m just basically more private about it perhaps than some of the others.
 

Friends were a great support to Brenda after her son died in intensive care. A friend also helped...

Friends were a great support to Brenda after her son died in intensive care. A friend also helped...

Age at interview: 59
Sex: Female
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And in the hospital or afterwards, would you have, you or your husband, would you have liked to talk to family members who had been through something similar or a counsellor or someone from the hospital, or not from the hospital?


No, me personally not, no I think my husband, he’s more of a private person and would talk to somebody that he really knew rather than a complete stranger he’s not so good on sort of complete strangers. We were offered every single bit of help and to come back and talk to anybody that we need. The offer was there, there was an awful lot of support if we needed it. But I didn’t feel the need to talk to a complete stranger. I knew that I had my friends.

 

Has your husband been able to cope as well, like in the ways you’ve been thinking?


No, because he doesn’t open up and talk. I make him sometimes. We sit down at the table and have a meal, and I try to remember the things that we’ve done with our son and I look across the table and there’s just tears streaming down his face. As I say, we are all different but he does give much more concern so I can’t, by being stronger, it’s the way I’ve got through it because I’ve got a purpose. I’ve got a purpose for looking out for him and trying to take care of him. And I know I can call on anybody, any of my friends and family, I can have a real good moan to a girl friend and they’ll listen to me and then we can go out and have a cup of coffee and talk about you know other things. But my husband hasn’t really got that soulmate and that’s what I think is very important, really important that you’ve got somebody to talk to. He has spoken to a friend of ours who does a little bit of counselling. She’s not terribly qualified but she’s just one of these natural people that has a flair for situations like this. And he finds comfort in her and he will start talking but not for very long, not for very long.

 

After Tom died Maurice and Jane supported each other. Maurice found he could talk to colleagues...

After Tom died Maurice and Jane supported each other. Maurice found he could talk to colleagues...

Age at interview: 70
Sex: Male
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You said you went back to work, how did work colleagues handle this, did they know what had happened?


Yes, oh well yes, I’ve already said that one work colleague told me actually what had happened in detail because he’d been listening to the police radios. Yes the colleagues were very good, the colleagues yes, were very good yes. When I say that they were supportive I suppose.  They were willing to talk about it, well some of them were, not the youngsters, we had, I was working with the youngsters and older people. It was generally the older people who would talk about it not the youngsters, they, they, they were not willing to talk about it.


Mm.


Although in fact we were, I’d probably told them, I did find I was telling people what had happened, and whether they liked it or not.


Mm.


And then one saw their responses, so people yes the work people were good, but work was, work was good, I’m, I’m fortunate in that I enjoy the work I do, did, and I think that that was, very, I was very lucky to that extent, and probably that’s why it was much harder for Jane who was not, who although she was in fact, again, well yes she had her horses, and I think her horses helped her too, as occupations somehow, other occupational therapy.


Did you seek support anywhere else?


I didn’t no.


You didn’t have any formal counselling?


No, I had no formal counselling; probably you know I’m a bit reluctant and a bit cynical about counselling.

Some people received tremendous support from family or friends. Bob, for example, said that when Darren died his neighbours cooked them meals and did their shopping. When Dominique died Lucreta’s friends cared for all her physical needs and helped her overcome her fears.
 

Friends from church looked after Lucreta for a while after Dominique died. They invited Lucreta...

Friends from church looked after Lucreta for a while after Dominique died. They invited Lucreta...

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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Well life after suicide, I began to write a book, “Life after Suicide. A mother’s inner cry.” And the days of going to work, ah, they were hell. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t live on my own, I couldn’t sleep on my own, I became a chronic fear, I became ill, my whole life came to an end, I couldn’t go out on my own, my friends from church who I call my adopted parents they, they took me in and, I slept with her in the bed [crying], at night, it’s all right, I slept with her and she comforted me and…


This is a friend from church?


Yeah, and the church, I’m a Christian and the church helped me, I lived with them for a while, I couldn’t live on my own, and I began to write because the counsellor in my work place she encouraged me to write and when she was leaving, so I had to go to work every day, so I lived with them and they would look after me in the morning and push me out the house, and it was really good because it meant, they, they, they really did that to, to, to get me to continue with my life.

After her daughter Rose died Susan found that Rose’s friends worked incredibly hard to find support for her. She thinks they were the ones who gave her literature about bereavement.
 
Kavita’s mother received many visitors after Kavita’s brother died. They called constantly. Kavita helped her mother to receive them.
 

In ‘South Asian culture’ it is normal for many visitors to call at the house after someone dies....

In ‘South Asian culture’ it is normal for many visitors to call at the house after someone dies....

Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
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And then you know …, everyday went on like that in slow motion. I used to go to my mum … everything was slow motion. It was … we’d sit and have these talks about my brother every evening at my mum’s house, I remember this. And they were so calm, the talks were so, so calm. And people kept coming to the house. I remember loads and loads of visitors because the sort of Asian culture is that sort of … when someone dies people come and visit constantly, you know, for days on end really. And it was really difficult. I remember my mum sort of saying she finds it really hard to receiving people and can I help. And it’s you know.


So you weren’t going to work at that time?


No I remember I was off, off work for two and half … was it something like two months, two and half months.


Hmm.


It’s when the people stopped coming, going to my mum’s, that’s when things felt really odd. It felt, I think we felt alone then because people had stopped or slowed down I should say. You’d get the odd visitor who hadn’t heard, or just heard and would come. I mean, initially the visitors were a problem because it was constant and it was tiring. But you sort of get used to that and it’s like a support.

After Jenny’s husband died, Jenny made it clear that she wanted to see her friends. They phoned her and met her for lunch and talked about David, which Jenny found enormously helpful. David’s friends were supportive too.
 
Arthur said that one particular friend came to stay immediately after Leon died and that she really brought him back to sanity.
 

Many friends were supportive but one particular friend helped Arthur get through the terrible...

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Many friends were supportive but one particular friend helped Arthur get through the terrible...

Age at interview: 70
Sex: Male
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Did you get any professional help yourself for your grief? Was there anybody else you could turn to?


Not really. What I did find though … oh there was, I’m sorry and this is something that I’m glad you brought up now. After Leon’s death, I was really in quite a nervous state myself. I finished up having a week in the hospital where Leon was taken to. But I had a very good lady friend in Belgium, who I rang immediately after Leon’s death and she came over straight away. And she stayed with me at the time. And I will say this, quite honestly that [my friend] got me through Leon’s death. She brought me back to sanity when I felt that, after a week in that hospital, I was disturbed. I was very disturbed by Leon’s death.


Of course.

 

And [my friend] was the person who got me through it.

After Amanda’s son died she also found that friends helped her with her grief. Now she finds it especially helpful to talk to a friend who has experienced grief herself. They do normal things together, like retail therapy, and they laugh together. Others also felt that they could gain particular support from talking to people who had been bereaved in a similar way.
 
When Michael’s friend died, Michael found it very helpful to talk to other friends who had been bereaved. Together they re-lived what had happened and shared memories of times they had spent with their mutual friend.
 

Talking to other friends who had been bereaved by his friend’s suicide was an affirming...

Talking to other friends who had been bereaved by his friend’s suicide was an affirming...

Age at interview: 42
Sex: Male
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Was there any opportunity to meet with other people who’d been bereaved, or didn’t you look into that?


I didn’t look into that actually, no. As I said, I knew lots of other people who knew the person who killed himself, and talking to them about it was a great, …was a large part I think of what helped me. Partly because they knew him so we could actually discuss, you know, the actual details of what happened and our memories of him and, you know, like shared, we had a shared history and re-living that was obviously quite a meaningful thing. But also, seeing how other people were reacting was also, was a useful thing as well. I think, as I’ve said, you know, I just felt generally happier when I was with other people than not, and I think that was not, that also was the case when I was with other people who had been bereaved by my friends suicide. Some of whom, you know, were taking it possibly even harder than I was, and in some ways talking to them and feeling that, you know, I was perhaps the stronger one of us was also quite an affirming experience too.


So you felt you were helping them?


Yes. And that was… if felt that, I don’t know, I guess that’s almost like a normal thing in life to do, perhaps that was a, a bit of normality that, you know that was something that brought a bit of almost normality back into my life again as well.

When his wife died Stephen had great support from family and friends. People stayed with him for a few weeks. He found it helped to talk endlessly about what had happened. He went over the same ground again and again, but each time the story changed slightly.
 

Family and friends offered tremendous support after Stephen's wife died. He found it helped to...

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Family and friends offered tremendous support after Stephen's wife died. He found it helped to...

Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
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Did you have anybody to help you with the children, or talk to them and be with them to start with and stay with you?


It’s funny, I have a Nigerian friend of mine and in Nigeria apparently if someone dies then I don’t think it matters how they’ve, how they’ve died, if someone has a bereavement then someone, culturally someone must stay with them, they must never be, they mustn’t be on their own for at least a month, for the first, for the first month, and that’s sort of the way it turned out. (…) I had fantastic support actually, you know my brother came over from Australia for a couple of weeks to spend some time with me, and a very good friend, who came down from up north, spent a week with me initially, and than came back a couple of months later. And I’m very lucky, I mean, I, consider myself lucky in, in a lot of ways.


Because you had support?


Oh so many ways, I mean because I had support, because I wasn’t forced financially to go back to work, I felt that, you know, I had nine months, I had nine months off, pretty much without working, and that for me was a fairly essential part of the process. I can’t imagine having to go back to work two or three weeks later, as I know often is the case with people (…). I wouldn’t have known where to start to be honest, well I probably would’ve done like most people do, would’ve probably sort of buried most of what, what went on and I feel like that period was a huge…; you know, if I was advising anybody it would certainly be to take as much time off as you absolutely possibly can, you know you need space and you need time, and going back to work just sort of, just burying yourself in something else, that’s not my way anyway, not my way.

 

So it helped you to interact with other people as well then?

 

Yes, I mean I can talk forever, I like talking and you know that was very important, that process of just talking endlessly, I mean you know you go over the same ground again and again.


Mm.


But each time it’s slightly different you know and you can’t talk enough about it really, you know. And you know every different person you speak to is, something, something changes slightly.


Mm.

 

There was a point at one stage where I felt that the story was sort of wearing a bit thin, I remember that feeling of like sort of, you know you’ve said it, when you’ve said something so many times, a story starts to sort of, well it just starts to wear a bit thin, it starts to sort of lose, whether, whether it’s losing reality or I’m not quite sure what that process is but it just, but that’s gone now, now I mean I’m happy to sort of talk about it.

Close friends and family did not always live in the same area. Some people had moved house shortly before they had been bereaved, and so had no local network of friends. Colin and Barbara, for example, largely supported each other when their son Matt died.
 
Family and friends did not always give the much needed support. Some people we talked to said that initially friends were very supportive but then gradually wanted to get on with their own lives and seemed to expect them to recover and feel better much too quickly. Some people also felt that others blamed them for what had happened. Communication with family members or old friends sometimes broke down. Other people sometimes seemed to avoid contact or find it hard to talk about suicide. This may have been because they were uncertain what to say or how to behave (see ‘Other people’s reactions’).

Last reviewed July 2017.

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