Surviving a Loved One Lost to Suicide

I will never forget the moment I got the phone call. It was early in the morning and I was lying in bed in my college dorm room. I had a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was wrong. When I picked up the phone all I heard was crying on the other end, and then the words I never thought I would hear: “Cousin Larry is dead.” He had taken his own life and left my family and me behind—sad, confused and, as selfish as it sounds, angry.

That morning I kept hearing the words from that phone call over and over again in my head. This made absolutely no sense. My cousin didn’t show the typical signs of suicide, or at least I didn’t notice them. I just remembered him as the one who cracked jokes at all our family functions, the one who was always smiling. He seemed so happy to me. I later discovered my cousin was struggling with depression and sadly; it got the best of him.

My story is similar to those of countless others who have lost a loved one to suicide. In fact, more than 34,000 people in the U.S. die by suicide each year. The World Federation for Mental Health reports that every suicide affects an estimated six survivors.

If you are one of those unfortunate people who experience the loss of a loved one due to suicide, here is some advice from Sharecare experts to help you cope.

Find support
Sharecare’s #1 Online Influencer in Depression, Julie Hanks, LCSW, recommends reaching out to others. “Suicide loss support groups and individual family therapy can be very helpful in working through the loss, receiving emotional support and gaining tools to move through the difficult experience,” says Hanks. You can also turn to friends and religious or spiritual organizations for help.

Don’t worry about grieving “the right way”
“Each grief has its own imprint as distinctive and as unique as the person we lost,” says David Kessler, co-author of Grieving and Life Lessons. “Grief is the reflection of the love you shared with someone. Your time, your process and your feelings will be different from anyone else’s in the world.”

There are five common stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. “The stages are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline,” says Kessler. “Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order.”

Know that you will feel better eventually
According to psychologist Lara Honos-Webb, PhD, “There comes a time in the process of grief when grieving no longer means dwelling on the emptiness of loss. After a period of grieving and honoring the stages of grief, the emptiness of loss becomes an opening into the fullness of all that was and in some mystical sense still is.” Webb says this can take days, months and sometimes years, but just know that you will feel better over time.

Losing my cousin to suicide was not easy for me. It took me a long time to get over feelings of guilt and regret that I hadn’t done enough to help him. But now when I think of my cousin I feel a sense of peace. I just close my eyes and remember the last time I saw him, sitting around the dinner table cracking jokes and smiling.

Did you lose a loved one to suicide? What advice can you give others who are grieving now? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Rachael Anderson

Rachael Anderson is a Content Producer at Sharecare. Before joining the team Rachael spent 5 years at CNN where she produced and edited video and blog content for CNN.com. Favorite exercises: yoga, rock climbing and hiking

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