When a Loved One Dies by Suicide

Suicide is among the top ten causes of death of people ages 10 to 64 in the United States.1 For people ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34, it is the second leading cause of death.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Changes in Suicide Rates – United States, 2019 and 2020. Suicide and attempted suicide cost close to $70 billion dollars per year in medical and work-related costs.

More importantly, suicide exacts a tremendous mental and emotional toll on the family members and friends who are left behind.

“When someone dies by suicide, family members, co-workers, and whole communities may be impacted. Suicide loss survivors (those left behind) may have feelings of shock, anger, abandonment, guilt, shame, depression, and some people may even feel suicidal themselves,” explains Deb Stone, ScD, MSW, MPH, Lead Behavioral Scientist, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10 to 14, and adults ages 25 to 34.
  • Feelings of anger, frustration, pain, guilt, and loneliness are all normal after experiencing the death of a loved one by suicide.
  • Support groups, therapy, and seeking help from a number of organizations can help you on your healing journey.

Each year, more than 700,000 people die by suicide worldwide. We provide ways to cope with the loss of someone by suicide and share resources to help you cope with your feelings.

When a Loved One Dies by Suicide

Coping With the Loss

Even if you know that someone you care about has been struggling with thoughts of suicide, their death can still come as a shock. Guilt about not being able to help your loved one, loneliness, confusion, and even relief are feelings a person may experience as they come to terms with the loss.
“Sometimes these feelings may be long-lasting because of the nature of the death (for example, sudden, lack of closure, unexpected, traumatic),” Dr. Stone explains. “It can be difficult to find closure after a suicide, as compared to other deaths that may have been anticipated and have occurred,” she adds.

“Many suicide loss survivors talk about perceiving that others do not know what to say to them, whether to acknowledge the loss was to suicide, or even whether it is appropriate to engage in our typical rituals supporting someone who is grieving,” states Doreen Marshall, PhD, Vice President of Mission Engagement, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“We should remember that a suicide loss is primarily a grief experience and that just like we would support others during losses,” she notes.

Coping with the loss, and the feelings, is not an easy, simple, clear-cut process. Some people lean on other family and friends for support. Others may join support groups to be among people who understand their pain and have gone through the same experience. People channel their pain into greater awareness of mental health issues and the problems that can lead to suicide.

No matter how a person chooses to work through their grief over a loved one’s suicide, it’s important to allow the journey to be their own, and no one else’s.

Survivors can struggle with trying to understand why the suicide happened, which can make their grieving process even more complex. In addition to grappling with internal feelings, suicide loss survivors also must contend with how others view their loss.

Help With the Healing Journey

While experts say there is no single best way to grieve your loss and work toward healing, they offer some practical steps that you can take.

Acknowledge Your Feelings

Give yourself permission to feel the anger, hurt, frustration, sadness, or to even not be sure what it is that you feel.

“It is important to first, know you are not alone and that there is a community of support out there from others who have been similarly impacted by suicide loss. It often helps loss survivors to connect with others who have had a similar experience or to read about suicide loss because that knowledge can help us better understand our own experience of loss,” says Dr. Marshall.

You Can Remember and Talk About Your Loved One

Your feelings may fluctuate from despair to love for the person you lost. And that’s okay. “The person you lost to suicide was more than how they died. It is important to say their name and share memories of their life and encourage others to do so as well,” advises Dr. Marshall.

That includes being able to talk about the fact that your loved one died. That person’s life and death are a part of their experience. “Grieving a suicide loss means that we find a way to transition the connection we had to the person while they were alive to a new connection to memories and the life they lived,” Dr. Marshall adds.

Seek Help

If you’re having difficulty moving through your grief, seek help. Resources are available for each stage of your grieving process.

American Foundation for Society Prevention offers a free booklet on surviving suicide loss, connections with other loss survivors, and real stories about loss. The website also has practical details on challenging issues, including whether the police need to be called or handling the press if the suicide has attracted public attention.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center lists a wealth of beneficial resources, including Friends for Survival, Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors, and Heartbeat – Survivors After Suicide. The CDC has insight on dealing with stress after a traumatic loss, as well as suicide resources. Seeing a therapist or psychologist, or even counseling from a church, can also be beneficial.

Take Care of Yourself

While the focus, understandably, may be on the person you lost, it’s critical that you tend to your own needs. “Other things that can help you cope include staying healthy, including getting plenty of sleep, exercising, and engaging in healthy activities that you find relaxing or healing,” explains Dr. Stone. Research shows that exercise can help relieve symptoms of depression and negative emotions.

A sudden loss can be a traumatic, life-changing event. As you work through your feelings and the hurt, take the time you need to process the loss, work through the pain, and move toward healing.” I don’t think you ever ‘get over’ loss, but that you live through it. You learn how to acknowledge the reality of what has occurred while recognizing that a death by suicide doesn’t define the person you lost or you,” Dr. Marshall concludes.

What This Means for You

There’s no easy way to handle the loss of a loved one. The complex emotions that come with the loss of that person by suicide can make their death even more challenging. Admit how you’re feeling and give yourself the time and space to own that grief and pain. Seek out help when you need to. And know that your loved one, and the love you have for that person, matter.