ASK THE DOC: One day at a time: grief after a bereavement by suicide

Dr Eddie gives his expert advice

Dr Eddie Murphy

Reporter:

Dr Eddie Murphy

Email:

editor@leinsterleader.ie

ASK THE DOC: One day at a time: grief after a bereavement by suicide

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Death by suicide is an overwhelming loss that can leave families, friends and communities with a range of emotions and many unanswered questions.

Those left behind may feel guilty and blame themselves. Families and friends often try to think of what clues they may have missed or how they might have been able to prevent the suicide.

Attempting to make sense of the death, trying to find an explanation and dealing with questions such as “Could I have prevented the death?” or “Am I to blame?” are all part of the emotional turmoil that follows a suicide.

Unfortunately, it may not always be possible to understand what has happened.

Asking “why” is important, but sometimes the answer may never be found. Although a stressful event may appear to have been the trigger, it will seldom have been the sole reason for death. Suicide is often the result of a complex combination of several significant factors. Despite years of experience, we will never fully understand the deceased’s frame of mind at the time of death.

What is important is to grieve and to come to a state of acceptance, even without having all the answers. At some stage over the course of grieving, a conscious choice may need to be made to fully live life again.

A different Journey

Pieta House (1800 247 247, www.pieta.ie) have a specialist service for those bereaved by suicide.

Bereavement in the aftermath of suicide has complexities. How people grieve and for how long varies from person to person. Sometimes, feelings of hostility and bitterness towards one another may surface.

For others, withdrawal or excessive talking may be their way of coping. It is important to remember, though, that there is no set amount of time to grieve and everyone will grieve in their own personal way.

What to expect —
How you might feel now or in the future

Death by suicide can cause very painful emotions. The sudden loss of a loved one can be chaotic and alarming. Complete shock, numbness or disbelief are common early responses, which often mask the full realisation of what has happened.

After the initial shock, you might experience a range of other feelings — for example, guilt, feeling down or distress.

Common emotions after a death by suicide:

INITIALLY

• Feeling shock, along with physical and emotional numbness.

• Denial, looking for explanations and becoming angry at others.

• Shame, guilt and rejection and feeling a lack of social support.

• Wanting to hide the truth.

• Relief, if the deceased had many difficulties before their death.

LATER

• Needing to know why it happened.

• Feelings of panic.

• Anger at yourself, at the deceased or at others.

• Difficulty relating to family members.

• Worry that you or another in the family may be vulnerable to suicide.

• Finding it hard to trust others again.

• Low mood, no energy.

• Depression.

• Feelings of tension or anxiety.

• Finding it hard to sleep.

• Recurring images or dreams/nightmares.

Guilt

It is very common to feel guilty when someone dies by suicide. You may feel guilty about things you did or did not do. You might feel an overwhelming sense of regret, self-doubt and deep shame.

You may ask yourself some or all of the following:

• “Why didn’t I listen?”

• “Why didn’t I prevent this from happening?”

• “Why didn’t I give him or her more time?”

• “What did I do to contribute to his or her death?

If you are feeling guilty or blaming yourself, you will need time and support to understand and accept that suicide is an individual act. No one person is in control of another person’s fate.

Anger

It is normal and natural to feel angry from time to time. Anger may be directed towards yourself, toward the person who died, or towards others in your family or community.

Sometimes anger can present itself in very physical ways, causing you to feel tense and irritable. Some people may lash out at others. Within a close family or community, anger can bring added strains, stresses and misunderstanding to relationships.

Learning to live with grief and loss

1. Know you can survive. You may not think so but you can.

2. Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know “why” or until you are satisfied with partial, or no, answers.

3. Know that you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings, but that all your feelings are normal.

4. Recognise that anger, guilt, confusion and forgetfulness are common responses when you are in mourning.

5. Be aware you may feel inappropriate anger at the person, at the world, at God, at yourself. It’s okay to express it in a safe way.

6. Accept that you may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do.

7. Know that having suicidal thoughts is common. It does not mean that you will act on these thoughts. However, seek help if you have frequent suicidal thoughts or if you are thinking of acting on them. Go to your GP or the Emergency Department of your nearest general hospital.

The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone struggling to cope. For confidential, non-judgemental support please call 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.ie or pieta house bereavement support service 1800 247247.

8. Remember to take one moment or one day at a time.

Dr Eddie Murphy runs a psychological and counselling service in Portarlington, Co Laois. If you are organising a speaker or training for school, community, voluntary, sporting or work groups, call Dr Eddie on 087 1302899 or go to www.facebook.com/ dr.eddie.murphy.psychologist