20 Ways the Trauma of Suicide Loss Lingers
If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
Loss and grief are a natural part of life. Sadly nobody lives forever. Spouses, partners, family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, pets — everyone has a finite amount of time in this world. When someone passes away, whether from natural causes, illness, accident or trauma, people will often congregate together to show support and offer condolences because that feeling of loss is a universal emotion that everyone understands. The memory of those who have passed lives on in the hearts and minds of all those who knew them, as well as in photographs, traditions and stories shared as we reminisce. When people pass away, we celebrate their life even as we mourn their death.
Yet strangely, when someone dies from suicide, the tone is markedly different. The word suicide itself is whispered in hushed tones, if mentioned at all. There is a hesitance, a loss for words, because nobody seems to know precisely the right words to say. Many people are afraid to even bring up someone who has died by suicide, as if the manner in which they passed somehow negates their very life itself.
This is admittedly odd because when you lose someone to suicide, that grief is automatically compounded by a whole other vast and deep flurry of emotions. Confusion, pain, anger, remorse, guilt. Why did they do this? Why didn’t they say something, talk to me? Were things really that bad for them? How could they do this to us, leave us like that? Why didn’t I see what was going on, how bad things were? What could I have done differently so that they’d still be here? Why? How do I get past this? How do I live without them? Can I?
As difficult as it is to mourn any loss, a loss to suicide can be especially complicated because talking about suicide is often considered too uncomfortable, too painful, taboo. You have all these emotions flooding your mind, breaking your heart, and no outlet to discuss them or work through that pain. That pain lingers and eats at you because that loss is never discussed, those feelings are never resolved.
To hear what trauma can often linger after losing someone to suicide, we partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and asked how suicide and suicide loss has impacted their lives and how it has continued to linger, leaving a lasting effect. We also asked how the people affected have learned to cope, if indeed they have. We could not include every response, but they were all worthy and valid. Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Here’s what loss survivors had to say:
“The trauma lingers in countless ways, many I can anticipate and some just smack me in the face out of nowhere.”
1. “The trauma lingers in countless ways, many I can anticipate and some just smack me in the face out of nowhere. A loss to suicide not only traumatizes you in the present and for the future, but I feel it also changes your past… at least for me; like the history you shared with the person is somehow altered because of the way they died. Not sure if that is common but it certainly is an awful feeling and one I have struggled with immensely. Can’t really say how I learned to cope with it, I think just the passage of time has helped. Love and light to all fellow suicide loss survivors. It is a club none of us want to be in and can’t be understood fully unless you are in it.” — Nicole M.
2. “My life and heart have been completely shattered by losing my 14-year-old daughter to suicide. I continue fighting for her. Every time my brain focuses on the trauma of her death I refocus to a good memory of her. Some days are much harder than others.” — Jennifer C.
“I allow myself to feel whatever I’m feeling and I don’t beat myself up. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.”
3. “Lost my son Chad over nine years ago. He was my early Thanksgiving baby so the holidays are hard. Some years I’m OK and remember his birthday with joy. Other years it’s hard to breathe. I brace myself each year around the first of November as I never know which direction my emotions are going to go. If I’m OK that’s what I go with. If not, I allow myself to feel whatever I’m feeling and I don’t beat myself up. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.” — Charlesta D.
4. “For me, it was the blame I got when my husband died by suicide. Some of his family did and still do blame me, as did friends and co-workers. I blamed myself for some time and still carry some guilt about not doing more to ‘save him.’ The trauma of being present for his death and the fear of what was about to happen… It has all stuck with me.” — Shannon H.
“I’m contributing tangibly to the cause by turning something so traumatic into something positive that helps others.”
5. “The worst part about losing Momma is the sad but real fact that she is missing all of the big moments in my life. Never saw me graduate, won’t be at my wedding and won’t ever meet any future grandchildren she would have had. The only thing that’s helped me is keeping her memory alive through me. Look at the photos. Listen to the song. It may be difficult but that’s what keeps them close to us. They are always there.” — Bella N.
6. “It’s been 14 years since my mother died by suicide and I still relive the moment unexpectedly on occasion. What has helped me cope has been working with a therapist, being open with my sister and a couple of friends about what I go through so that I have a small network of people to reach out to when I’m struggling, and also finding things I enjoy doing to distract myself until I am out of the moment. I also volunteer doing suicide prevention research which helps me feel like I’m contributing tangibly to the cause by turning something so traumatic into something positive that helps others.” — Alex V.
“I don’t want to pretend that the most impactful event in my life didn’t happen.”
7. “I think the hardest part is the conversations with others. People say weird things. I don’t take it personally because it has to do with more with their discomfort than mine. Suicide is so terribly hard to understand, so the go-to is victim blaming. Saying it was ‘selfish’ and ‘a choice’… The father of my kids took his life six years ago yesterday. I don’t want to pretend that the most impactful event in my life didn’t happen.” — Monica P.
8. “I lost my son almost nine years ago on New Year’s Day. I can’t say I have coped well. I still think of him every day and the pain is still there. I love to hear people tell stories of him, as it does bring me some joy. The holidays are still pretty grim. He loved Christmas — his birthday was December 1 so he loved he whole month of December. I would have never dreamed that I would have to ever live without one of my children — that is not the way things are supposed to be.” — Shari P.
“There are things that constantly remind you that they are no longer here.”
9. “Any time anything amazing or exciting or new happens and I want to call my dad — I can’t. I’m currently planning my wedding and I am constantly thinking about how he won’t walk me down the aisle. That big raise or bonus at work? Can’t tell him that either. There are things that constantly remind you that they are no longer here. Oh someone brought in Oreos to work? You’ll remember your loved one loved them and you’ll know why they aren’t here. It’s a constant state of retraumaization. It never goes away. It just is buried by things and then dug up again and reburied.” – Kayla T.
10. “The pain lingers every day, it never goes away. You learn to cope with it but you’re never the same. I will never be the same. Life looks different to me now. The flashbacks are still real three years later. The guilt, the pain, the anger all balled up in one. Some days are worse than others but every day it’s something. A memory, a song, a daughter with her father, a simple comment by a stranger… it all triggers!” — Chrystal B.
“I just live my life one day and one step at a time, and do my best to honor my brother in every way that I can.”
11. “There is still so much I can’t speak about to anyone. I can barely let the thoughts in. I never really had a chance to even take in the trauma… The resulting trauma of that period in my life still haunts me. Some days out of nowhere. Literally.” — Jen S.
12. “I was the first family contact made when my brother died by suicide. A detective in Texas called me on the phone to let me know. He also told me it would be easier if my family received the news from me instead of from him. So, I was tasked with calling my mother, my father, my grandmother, my brother’s best friend, and delivering that earth-shattering news over and over again. It broke me and I still have a difficult time talking to people on the phone. If I receive any call from a family member that I’m not expecting then it sends my mind racing. I don’t think it’s something I can ever fully cope with. I don’t think you can get over being the person to deliver that kind of news and listening to your loved one’s hearts break over and over again. So, I just live my life one day and one step at a time, and do my best to honor my brother in every way that I can.” — Jessica T.
“It’s OK to cry and grieve… and even feel guilty, so long as I keep moving forward.”
13. “I lost two people and I’m a survivor so remorse and survivor’s guilt can be difficult. Most people don’t talk about what it’s like to live after your attempt while your loved ones don’t. The first few years are the hardest. The pain and what ifs linger but as I talked about them, shared memories, I realized that they linger in us still. Their bodies may not be with us but their memories are. And sometimes, it’s reminding myself that it’s OK to cry and grieve… and even feel guilty, so long as I keep moving forward.” — Kristi B.
14. “I lost my youngest son to suicide over seven years ago. To say our lives changed in one night is a huge understatement. It’s the ‘ripple’ effect that continues to this day. Guilt has driven a family member to make such questionable life decisions. I fear losing another child. We lost a son, a brother, a grandson, an uncle, a friend. He left a void that can not be filled. Time has brought some relief from the excruciating pain but missing him will never be totally gone. Eric’s mom” — Lynette L.
“The more you talk you will realize you aren’t alone in this.”
15. “My brother died 20 years ago this coming February. I think of him every single day. I think of the agony and despair he must have felt in those moments and I cannot fathom that darkness. The two hour drive home after finding him with my mom haunts me. My grandmother’s shriek when I broke the news is fresh in my ears. The guilt is always going to be with me. But also, I try to consistently talk about mental health. We have to normalize these conversations so that depression doesn’t hide in the shadows.” — Tera P.
16. “We lost our 38 year old son just over two years ago. Take time to grieve… But please don’t allow yourself to stay in self-pity. Meet with others who have or are going this type of loss. The more you talk you will realize you aren’t alone in this. The more we opened up, even to strangers, we found many others that have also been affected by suicide… Get involved! There are many local and national groups or organizations that can help. Go out, make a difference and maybe you will be helping even just one person not to feel the same pain you are feeling.” — Carol C.
“We take him with us wherever we go by writing his name in the sand, snow or dirt.”
17. “I can’t go by our old house where our son died at 16 by suicide. I was the only one who didn’t want to move because it was where he lived for me and yet the place sucked the life and energy out of me. Now I hyperventilate when I try to go by it. I don’t tolerate BS very well. I say things I wouldn’t have said before. You never know what will trigger a memory or a flashback to that horrific day. I cope by talking to whoever will listen. I reach out to others in the same situation. I am open and honest about what happened. We take him with us wherever we go by writing his name in the sand, or snow or dirt. I live for him. I try to push myself outside my comfort zone at times.” — Renee A.
18. “Before I lost someone to suicide, suicide was in my daily life; I was struggling with suicidal ideation and I had friends who were struggling with it too. I tried to be there for my friends in the way I could and I could maintain focus. After I lost someone to suicide, I got panic attacks when someone looked depressed. I found it harder to focus. It is getting better but it is still hard some days. I’ve been making sure I try to balance self-care with caring for others.” — Lily E.
“I live every day to make my dad proud and I advocate for mental health awareness as often as I can.”
19. “My husband died by suicide from bipolar in 2009… There is a lot of loss beyond the death with suicide. Friends might drift away because they don’t know how to be with you. For me, it’s hard to look at family photos, they just make me sad. Every day I think of him, sometimes with a smile, sometimes with sadness or anger. My faith and friends and family have helped me cope. Attending and now facilitating a survivor support group has been transformative for me. Having a place to talk, share, listen and cry with people who know a similar pain is very healing. I used to be the kind of person that didn’t understand why some people had such a hard time dealing with life, but now I know. I have a new-found empathy for others and am seeking a career in a helping profession. Losing a loved one to suicide is devastating, but there is life on the other side to be enjoyed.” — Geraldine U.
20. “I lost my dad to suicide a little over two years ago and the grief is just as real now as it was the night I got that phone call. I think of him every day and am constantly wondering what life would be like right now if he were still here. This pandemic has put so many things into perspective for me and I know as much as I selfishly want him here, I am at peace with knowing he isn’t struggling and isn’t having to experience his depression through these unprecedented times. I live every day to make my dad proud and I advocate for mental health awareness as often as I can. Miss you daddy.” — Jenna N.
If you’re a suicide loss survivor, what would you add? Let us know in the comments below.