Why Losing a Loved One to Suicide Complicates Grief

Suicide is unfortunately so common that everyone knows someone who has committed suicide. From the classmate who hung himself just six weeks before high school graduation to the widow who found her husband in their bedroom to the man who’s father shot himself and left him the head of the family when he was a teenager, there are so many ways that suicide leaves a trail of chaos and pain in its wake.

The sudden death of any loved one is difficult but there are several reasons why losing someone to suicide is especially hard. Studies confirm that a close relationship with a victim of suicide can lead to complicated grief and post-traumatic stress disorder.

An article in Harvard Women’s Health Watch does a nice job of outlining several of the particular dimensions that challenge survivors of suicide:

Complicated aftermath

Not to be indelicate, but the death scene can be messy. And sometimes it’s in the survivor’s home. And sometimes there are legal and financial ramifications to deal with.


Historically, suicide was something people didn’t talk about. And it’s really hard to get support for something you can’t tell anyone. Shame festers in secret. Also, when members of our community, which could be work or church or school or neighborhood respond badly to the suicide, it can impede the survivor’s recovery.

Mixed emotions toward the victim

It’s completely normal to have complicated feelings toward the victim. When we lose someone to cancer or illness, we grieve, but we also feel pretty confident that, given the choice, they’d still want to be with us. If we are close to someone who is murdered or killed by someone else’s negligence, we know the above, and we also have someone we can be angry with. Losing someone to suicide is a double blow. This person chose to leave us and the world behind and it’s natural to feel angry with that person. There is also the loss and grief of losing a loved one.

What if’s and guilt

It’s very natural to search your memory for signs you may have missed, to wonder what you could have said and done differently. It’s natural to feel like you did something wrong or didn’t do something right, that somehow you could have prevented this from happening.

What can help?

Support groups can be helpful. Here is a resource to help you find one near you, and the website it’s on provides a lot of other good resources.

If you feel you need professional support, you can find a therapist who specializes in grief or trauma.

There are also hotlines dedicated to helping people in crisis.

from After Trauma

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