19 Suicide Survivors Share What They Needed After Their Loss

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After any death, it can be difficult to find the right words to support a loved one. After a suicide, especially if you’re unfamiliar with mental illness and what it’s like to be suicidal, it can seem nearly impossible. Some might hold misconceptions about suicide and think the person who died is “selfish” or took the “easy way out” — even though that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Because the truth is, although suicide is a unique loss, it deserves the same respect as any other cause of death.

To find out what suicide loss survivors needed after their loved one died (and what they still need now), the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention asked its community to share one way to support someone who’s lost a loved one to suicide.

Here’s what they had to say:

1.Don’t be afraid to speak the name of the person who died. This needs to be bolded and repeated. I hate when people tiptoe around talking about my brother to me. Without talking to people about my loss, I could not have recovered. I felt so isolated after losing him, and even though it hurt and made me cry every time I talked about him (and that still happens, even a year and a half later) it was also an outlet for me to express my love and my loss.”

2. “Look at me with love and empathy, but try to hide the fear/pity if you can.”

3. “Don’t judge the actions of the person who [died by] suicide. After my attempt I was not so quick to judge others.”

4. “Don’t ask how they did it. What difference does it make?”

5. “The best we can do is to understand these people did not truly want to die. They merely wanted their pain to end and saw no other recourse. It is by no means an act of cowardice. It is not our place to understand why they made their decision. We will never truly understand their angst. We must always remember them by how they lived, not how they died.”

6. “Don’t push. If someone says they are OK, don’t badger them. Some people don’t like to share their feelings, and people handle grief differently. Tell them you are there for them. Make them smile. But don’t badger someone about their feelings or thoughts.”

7. “People should also refrain from using cliches like ‘it was God’s will’ or ‘he’s in a better place.’ If you don’t know what to say, a hug will do.”

8. “Our neighbors got us a rose bush. Never said a word. Just planted it in our garden. Now two years later we have something to look forward to when it blooms. We call them Katie Roses.”

9. “Let me talk about it as much as I need to. Don’t get tired of my tears or frustrated that I’m still heartbroken. Please.”

10. “Just please acknowledge that it happened. All you have to say is I’m so sorry, that’s all. I see my brothers friends who don’t say a word to me about his suicide and it’s like my brother never existed because they are too uncomfortable to say anything… It hurts.”

11. “Best thing my girlfriend did for me was to show up at my house and hold me and let me cry… she then made sure I could breathe again. Not a word. Arms wrapped around me while we both just let the tears flow. Her love was evident in her actions… and I didn’t have to go seek it out.”

12. “People were too scared or didn’t know what to say to me after. I lost my husband to suicide. All I needed was people to just be there — they don’t have to say anything. But just being there for me was everything I needed. Never be scared to talk to someone who has lost to suicide.”

13. “Never say it’s the easy way out.”

14. “Mow the lawn, get paper plates and plastic silverware, toilet paper, grocery shop and clean the house.”

15. “Let me talk about it. So many people are uncomfortable talking about suicide.”

16. “Reach out in the year following at milestone dates, events, holidays to acknowledge that life is different without their loved one.”

17. “Allow the person to speak about the loss without judgment. Nothing hurts more than not being able to openly express your grief from such a tragic and devastating loss than eye rolls, unwarranted questions and stigmatized commentary.”

18. “The hardest part was [figuring out what to do with] all of his belongings. The guys helped with the furniture, but I had all of my son’s clothes and personal belongings to deal with. It was so difficult.”

19. “Don’t forget about them. In a week, a month, a year or longer… they are still in pain even though your life continues. Occasionally reach out to them and let them know they are still on your mind. It matters. And it helps to know others haven’t forgotten your loved one.”



The Semantics of Suicide

To many of us, “committing suicide” is a phrase that rolls of our tongues. We don’t think of the implications of saying this. You may think I am being fussy, but this is an important point. Up until recently “committing suicide” was an accepted term. So what has changed, and why does it need to?

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In 1961, the Suicide Act decriminalized suicide in England and Wales, meaning those who attempted suicide could no longer be prosecuted. Previous to this, those who attempted suicide may have been fined, prosecuted or even given jail time for the act. The idea of criminalizing attempted suicide or “self-murder,” as it was sometimes called, has been around since the 13th century. For attempted suicide to be criminalized, it had to be proven that the person attempting the act was sane. This may seem laughable to us now. We have the insight that attempting suicide and suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts) are the product of severe mental health problems, but this was not always the case. Although suicide was decriminalized nearly 50 years ago, it is only in recent years that mental health activists have encouraged people to adopt the term “died by suicide.”

The language we use in everyday life has far-reaching consequences. We may think being politically correct has gone too far, but for many this is an important issue. Using the term “committing” retains the stigma of suicide as a crime. To me it says you don’t understand the severity of an illness that brings someone to this point in their life. It tells me you don’t take what has happened to me, or others like me, seriously. We need to understand that people who have suicidal thoughts and may
even attempt to or die by suicide do not make these decisions lightly. When I had these thoughts I wasn’t “copping out” on life. It wasn’t the “easy” route, but at some points it did seem like the only available option.

If this conversation makes you uncomfortable, then you probably need to be reading this. I’m not asking you to stand in my shoes. One of the things I struggle most with in mental illness is that as desperately as we need to people to understand, unless you’ve been here, it’s unlikely you can. We could all do with more understanding when it comes to mental health and mental illness. We need to understand how the language we use can reinforce discrimination, which already has a huge impact on society.

To use another mental health soundbite that is big in the press at the moment, we all need to be more “mindful” about mental health, both our own and others’, and how our words have the power to affect change. By getting our lingo right, we show we are an enlightened population. Until this happens you will find me reminding
people of the difference between “committing” and dying by suicide.